'We need to ensure that we are building a new economic model focused around workers and their wellbeing while also ensuring that they receive a decent salary.'
For many of us, we have been appreciating the benefits of a four day working week. Every time there’s a bank holiday I feel a sense of relief. They’re often a chance to finally get that life-admin done, or spend quality time with the friends and family we neglect while working standard hours. In the case of this week’s bank holiday, it gives extra time to rest and recuperate – something that is vital to all of our well being.
While you’re sitting counting down the hours and minutes until the next weekend, imagine what life would be like if every week was a four day week followed by a three day weekend with no loss of pay? This is something that’s become a reality for employees in work places around the world who are enjoying the benefits of reducing work hours. This includes 3,300 workers who took part in a four day week trial that finished in December last year. This trial was centred around the basis of a 100:80:100 principle with workers receiving 100 percent of their pay for 80 percent of the hours while giving 100 percent productivity. Many of these companies are now making this new way of working permanent as they have experienced the increase in moral, reduction in absences and increase in mental and physical health of their employees.
We are seeing a genuine shift in what work looks like in the twenty-first century. However too often these opportunities are going to white collar workers or to the well paid in skilled industries who are able to negotiate reduced hours as part of their contract. By promoting a four day week for all we can rebalance this growing inequality.
This idea seems radical, yet the two–day weekend as we know it wasn’t established until the 1930s. Although first pioneered by Henry Ford in 1914, it was truly established after 1929, when the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America union was the first to successfully demand a five day working week. This was part of a variety of trade union campaigns that fought for reductions to the working week and won the eight hour day. Their famous slogan ‘Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will.’ is something we now take for granted as the standard , when at the time it was visionary.
Speaking to a teacher who has worked a four day week for three years, the benefits are clear. His work and home life are more balanced giving him more time with his children and creating more fairness around support for his sons and a balance of household chores. The children he teaches also have the advantage of being taught by their teaching assistant on a Friday. She provides a different angle to learning that engages different pupils with different methods.
At a time of stagnant wages and growing industrial discontent, the four day week may seem like a nice to have, however there is evidence to show that reduced hours can help during the cost of living crisis. The think tank Autonomy has highlighted that reduction in hours means reduction in costs, with people saving money on childcare, commuting and other work related costs. Analysis also shows that with more time people change their habits and purchase less energy intensive “convenience” goods and products such as ready meals. This helps create a healthier work force and reduces the impact we have on the planet.
Also, this instability is a symptom that something isn’t working for us, that the current model is broken and that the status quo is in flux. We need to ensure that we are building a new economic model focused around workers and their wellbeing while also ensuring that they receive a decent salary.
If you or your organisation currently work a four day week or are considering it then you can get accredited with the 4 Day Week Campaign who can provide resources and tools. You can also get involved with them if you want to campaign for a four day week. To take action now you can write to your MP here.
Amelia Womack was deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2014-22
Image credit: Francesc Fort – Creative Commons