Is it time for the four-day work week?

Is the time ripe for introducing four-day working weeks?

The pandemic has caused unemployment to soar and has turned the working world on its head.

But some say the solution to the crisis lies not in working more, but in working less.

“... this rapid transition to new ways of working also opens up opportunities for reducing working time overall.”

Aidan Harper works for the New Economic Foundation think tank and is championing the call for four-day working week.

“In the UK in particular, working time reduction, basically flat lines since 1980, despite the fact that productivity has continued to increase up until 2008. So what I would say is that our economy at this point in time is productive enough to rapidly reduce working time for the vast majority of people.”

It’s not a new concept.

Unilever is one the biggest brands trialling the initiative in New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinnda Ardern has encouraged the policy.

Not only could it help with mental health, but it could reap significant environmental gains, too.

“There are many ways in which work time relates to things like carbon emissions and this intuitive argument in many ways. So if you have more time, you are less likely to engage in carbon intensive activities. So you're you're more likely to walk or cycle that drive. You more like to cook with fresh ingredients rather than buy expensive and carbon intensive frozen food products.”

Working four days but getting paid for five sounds too good to be true - and there is a fair share of sceptics.

The Confederation of British Industry cautioned that it could push many businesses into loss.

But proponents claim fewer hours doesn’t harm productivity.

“So there are three main ways in which we can see that decreasing hours is good for productivity and good for the economy. We can look at our own history to see that when we move from a six to a five day week, it was accompanied by an increase in productivity and it was good for the economy overall. We can also look at other countries and take a macro analysis and we can see that countries that work fewer hours tend to have much stronger economies and tend to be much more productive than countries that work lots of hours. And finally, we can see real and existing examples of firms and organizations who are experimenting with reductions in working hours. And they are doing this and seeing the increases in terms of increased well-being, decreased sick leave, decreased turnover. And it's clearly good for these organizations that they have reduced working time."

Video Transcript

- Is the time ripe for introducing four-day working weeks? The pandemic has caused unemployment to soar and has turned the working world on its head. But some say the solution to the crisis lies not in working more, but in working less.

AIDAN HARPER: Rapid transition to new ways of working has also opens up opportunities for reducing working time.

- Aidan Harper works for the New Economic Foundation think tank and is championing the call for the four-day working week.

AIDAN HARPER: In the UK in particular, working time reduction and basically flat lined since 1980, despite the fact that productivity has continued to increase up until 2008. So what I would say is that our economy at this moment in time is productive enough to rapidly reduce working time for the vast majority of people.

- It's not a new concept. Unilever is one of the biggest brands trialing the initiative in New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has encouraged the policy. Not only could it help with mental health, but it could reap significant environmental gains, too.

AIDAN HARPER: There are many ways in which working time relates to things like carbon emissions. So if you have more time, you are less likely to engage in carbon-intensive activities. So you're more likely to walk or cycle instead of drive. You're more likely to cook with fresh ingredients rather than buy expensive and carbon-intensive frozen food products.

- Working four days but getting paid for five sounds too good to be true. And there is a fair share of skeptics. The Confederation of British Industry cautioned that it could push many businesses into loss. But proponents claim fewer hours doesn't harm productivity.

AIDAN HARPER: Historically, when people talked about the move from a six to a five-day week, you had exactly the same arguments against the move from a six to a five-day week as you have with people today questioning the move towards a four-day week. They question the ability of firms to survive in a competitive environment. It talks about international competition. They said, of course, it's insane that people would work for five days and be paid for six. And these are exactly the same things we hear today.

There are three main ways in which we can see that decreasing hours is good for productivity and good for the economy. We can look at our own history to see that when we moved from a six to a five-day working week, it was accompanied by increases in productivity. And it was good for the economy overall.

We can also look at other countries and take a macro analysis. So we can see that countries that work fewer hours tend to have much stronger economies and tend to be much more productive than countries that work lots of hours. And finally, we can see real and existing examples of firms and organizations who are experimenting with reductions in working hours. And they are doing this and seeing the increases in terms of increased well being, decreased sick leave, decreased turnover. And it's clearly good for these organizations that they have reduced working time.