fFive days on, two days off has been the defining rhythm of British work for over 80 years. But as 70 UK companies embark on the largest trial yet of a four-day week, the work calendar may finally change.
Campaigners are seizing the way Covid shook up working life to push the boundaries of the weekend for the first time since the post-war years when all of Saturday became a day off for most. An advocate predicts that a four-day week could be available to the majority in Britain within five years, and Stephen Fry this week gave his voice to an increasingly confident four-day week campaign, which argues that shorter hours increase productivity, lower carbon emissions. reduce and improve the family. life – all without a pay cut.
In the campaign, Fry suggests that the seven-day week should no longer be considered “a brutal fact” because it “isn’t real the way a day is real, a single turn of our planet or the way a year is real, a round of the earth around the sun … the week was invented by us”.
The ancient Egyptians had a 10-day week, the Romans worked for a while with an eight-day week, and in the 1920s the Soviet Union experimented with a five-day week with staggered rest days for different parts of the workforce to keep the machines running. keep non stop.
A brewery, fish and chip shop, an estate tax specialist and a software company are taking part in the six-month trial overseen by academics from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Boston College in the US.
But if the idea that Friday is the new Saturday sounds too good to be true, then maybe it is. It has some heavyweight critics, especially as Britain this week was forecast to plunge into negative economic growth next year.
Robert Skidelsky, an economist who researched the idea of a national four-day week for former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, said, “It can’t be done on a national legislative basis.” He said that with real income poised to decline in the face of rising food and energy prices, people will want to work more, not less, to maintain their standard of living.
Skidelsky advocates short-time work where the benefits of automation can be achieved, but warned that a shorter workweek for the same pay — the principle of the four-day weekly campaign — is out of reach for “people in the gig economy who need to scrape and do different jobs to keep living standards up to par.” to keep”.
A courier in Peterborough paid at a parcel rate that hasn’t changed in the face of inflation and now faces skyrocketing costs as petrol reaches £2 a litre, reacted skeptically to news of the ride: “We won’t benefit from it couriers panic and have to work more.”
An urge for more, not less, work is also seen abroad. In China, companies are squeezing more hours through the sassy-sounding 996 system — six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Elon Musk is the poster boy for entrepreneurs to “work hard as hell” with 100-hour weeks.
Nevertheless, a more relaxed four-day week is becoming a reality for some in the UK, North America and across Europe. The Spanish city of Valencia this month announced subsidies for employers to try the service, electronics giant Panasonic announced an optional shorter week in Japan in January and up to 50 companies are expected to participate in a four-day pilot in Australia.
“I think this is unstoppable,” said Andrew Barnes, who launched the global four-day campaign after seeing a trial in New Zealand boost worker productivity to 125% of its previous level and halve absenteeism. “We use a method that was designed for the repetitive manufacturing industry in the 1920s and we also apply it in the 21st century. It does not make any sense.”
He predicted that the majority of employers in the UK could offer shorter hours in five years’ time.
Lorraine Gray, the chief executive of Pursuit Marketing, a Glasgow call center company with clients such as the NHS and Google, has 350 employees who only work Monday to Thursday. She said that since the company first tried the move in 2016, productivity has increased by 29% and now only 12% of its workforce is leaving each year, compared to 17% previously.
She said call centers often suffer from “Mondayitis,” with employees taking a long weekend to call in sick. After the switch to the four-day week, absenteeism fell to almost zero. They found that many sick days were taken by staff who only had a few hours off for an appointment, but with Fridays now available for ‘personal administration’ that has largely stopped.
“We get moms who say they now have time when the kids are at school so they can do their hair or do housework, and then the weekend is just quality time,” she said. “Some people do Open University courses, others take care of older relationships.”
Proponents of the shorter workweek say it’s possible because so much time at work is wasted on distractions. When Barnes ran Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, where he tried the four-day pattern, he found that employee use of non-business websites fell by 35%.
But squeezing the same amount of work into fewer hours may only be possible for people who manage their own workload; it is more difficult to increase productivity in occupations such as hospitality and public services such as nursing and police.
The Vault City brewery in Edinburgh has had a four-day week Monday through Thursday with the same pay since January, says Richard Wardrop, 32, head of marketing. He was drawn to join in on the short week, saying he “would struggle with a five-day work week now.” He has used the time to travel to places like Aviemore on long weekends and enjoys shopping and going out on a Friday when it’s quiet “before the chaos of the weekend”.
Anecdotally, productivity has increased, but the company plans to add weekend shifts because the yeast that allows the fermentation to take place doesn’t rest for anyone. When it comes to the four-day work week, ‘the beer isn’t always a breeze’.
Some proponents of the four-day week dream beyond having more time to get a boiler repaired or run errands. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of Rust, a book subtitled “Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” states that a four-day week provides an entire year of extra free time every five years.
“Imagine what you would do with another year. Now imagine corporate strategies and government policies that create millions of years of leisure time by shortening the work week. How much better would the world be if we had time to fix it?”