Jonathan Bartley: We need to bring back the idea of a four day week

With the number of people wanting to work fewer hours at its highest level in a decade, Green Party leader Jonathan Bartley says we need to revive the idea of a four day week.

In April, when I floated the idea of a shorter working week, there was no shortage of critics lining up to state it simply wasn’t possible.

But a week ago I visited a business that implements a 4.5 day working week – and it’s been in place for more than 30 years. Ormiston Wire Ltd, a factory in west London, is a family business that’s been going for six generations.

The employees finish at 1pm every Friday, an initiative started by the father of the current managing director Mark Ormiston. The idea wasn’t borne out of a progressive vision for the future of the world of work, but simple common sense. At the time, workers were paid in cash at Friday lunchtime, and almost always spent up large at the pub before trying to return to work several pints later.

It was a simple change in the interests of the business and its employees. Indeed the effect on workers is testament to everything we’ve been saying since we first raised the concept earlier this year. Productivity is up and morale is high.

When I met the employees, they were eager to tell me how the shift away from a traditional working week benefits them as well as the company. One had a long commute and an early Friday finish gives him the opportunity to beat rush hour, while another uses the free time to go shopping.

The positivity is unanimous and overwhelming – flexible working patterns are one of the key attractions of working at Ormiston Wire and helps with employee retention. Who wouldn’t want a long weekend?

The evolution of the traditional working week is a natural progression. About 90 years ago Henry Ford moved from a six day to five day working week and now, with the emerging challenges of automation and the gig economy, it’s time for another rethink.

Modern life cries out for more flexibility. If everyone commutes at the same time on the same days then of course it’s going to be a nightmare to get to work. We should embrace the changes and bold new ideas that will make our work, and our work-life balance, better.

Businesses can learn from Ormiston Wire in other ways too. The company is proof that embedding sustainability in the heart of your work is both common sense and good business sense.

The factory is proud of its green credentials which have been recognised in the awards it has won. It has solar panels and a wind turbine on the roof. The packaging that raw materials arrive at the factory in is repurposed to send out the finished product. It’s a cost-saving and waste-saving measure that pays off – the company only empties its skip twice a year.

This is a resilient business that began in 1793, has survived multiple recessions and is now one the few manufacturing companies left in London. There’s plenty the naysayers can learn from Ormiston Wire about adapting to the challenges of a changing world.

Whether it’s becoming environmentally sustainable or introducing a shorter and flexible working week, it’s not just about weathering the inevitable economic storms but being able to thrive when they hit.

It’s about being efficient, smart and doing more with less. This is the kind of future we are all needing to inhabit, and right now. The only question left is how soon we can make the necessary changes.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party of England & Wales

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