The five day week. It’s as much a staple of working life as Christmas parties and ‘voluntary’ workshops. Most of us have never known anything different, but it wasn’t always this way. In the 19th Century, a six and a half day working week was standard (as were 18-hour shifts and child labour). It wasn’t until the 1940’s, through increasing pressure from labour movements, that a five day 40-hour working week was officially adopted in the US. Most of the world followed suit.
The idea of a shorter working week, then, isn’t particularly new. It’s been drifting in and out of mainstream discussion for decades, but the last few years have seen the concept of the four day week gain traction, with increasing support for mass adoption. Covid has accelerated this trend.
We spoke to Joe Ryle, Campaign Officer for the 4 Day Week Campaign, to gain some insight into the potential benefits a shorter working week could bring, as well as the challenges of implementing such a change.
What are the main advantages of a four day week for employers and staff?
The four-day working week is good for workers, good for employers and good for the environment. There are many benefits it can bring such as improved mental health, a better work-life balance for all and a boost to productivity.
We think that deep down most people already realise we work too much and the move to a four-day week is about reclaiming our leisure time, but in a way that benefits companies as well as workers.
Arguments against a four day week often state it simply isn’t viable for all industries. Do you think this is accurate?
There are some industries where a four-day week is more difficult to implement but it is by no means impossible, and we believe that every worker should eventually transition to a four-day (32 hour) working week with no reduction in pay.
What other challenges does mass adoption of the four-day week face, and what can be done to overcome them?
If the government introduced a four-day (32 hour) maximum week this would fundamentally reshape our economy in the interests of people and the planet. One of the main advantages would be a reduction in levels of unemployment.
However, there will be challenges along the way, including complex changes that HR departments would need to make. The best route to overcoming any challenges would be to set a target of a couple of years into the future so there’s plenty of time to transition to a four-day week, and firms aren’t expected to implement it overnight.
What advice would you give to companies considering a four day week?
The best advice we can give is to fully consult with staff before implementation and where firms are concerned it might not work out then they should run a six-month trial first, which can be tweaked along the way.