“A shorter working week isn’t only good for the workplace, it’s great for society and the environment… shifting to a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year.”
By Mariam Salman, 4 Day Week Campaign
The four-day week, with no loss of pay would push our economy and society in the right direction. It’s good for business productivity and the wellbeing of workers but its impact goes far beyond the workplace. The way we currently work is outdated and no longer fit for the 21st century.
We all need an update – especially if we care about gender equality, the planet and the people that inhabit it.
One hundred years ago, workers in the UK fought and won the five-day working week. Workers were sick and tired of working 6 days a week with no time for rest, leisure, and social connection. The free time from work we currently enjoy would not exist if we didn’t demand it.
A century later, we are seeing a massive transition in the type of work we do, driven by technology, automation and women’s participation in the labour market. However, working hours have stayed the same. The nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday pattern remains the standardised model of work in the UK – but now there is a growing movement that points to an alternative future.
A new model of work for the 21st century
Since the Covid pandemic, the way we think about work has transformed. With companies moving to working from home almost overnight, we saw how the world of work could look different.
The pandemic shifted the focus onto the importance of time, friends and family. Workers had a taste of more freedom and autonomy. The good news is that the idea of a four-day week is more popular than ever – with 66% of “red wall” voters recently stating they would vote for the party that promises it.
The evidence is convincing, well researched, and global: a four-day week almost always works wherever it is trialled. Last year from June to December, around 3,000 UK workers from sectors across the economy trialled a 32-hour, four-day week with no loss of pay, in the biggest pilot study of its kind. The transformational impact of shorter working hours was ground-breaking.
Results from the trial speak to the positive effect of shorter working hours. It was a win-win for workers and business. Participants were less stressed, had fewer sleeping problems, less work/life conflict, and more time for themselves and their friends and family. On the other side, businesses benefited too as employees were less likely to quit (the recruitment process can cost companies thousands of pounds), were happier and more motivated at work, and took less sick days. Businesses taking part in the trial even had a 1.6% average increase in revenues.
This data is far from unique. Numerous studies have shown that a four-day week is good for productivity, business and the economy. When Microsoft in Japan trialled a four-day week, productivity rose by 40%. Similarly, Iceland’s four-day week trial was an overwhelming success leading to 85% of workers having the option to work one day less. Back in the UK, South Cambridgeshire Council have also trialed a four-day week to great success.
Less work is better for society
A shorter working week isn’t only good for the workplace, it’s great for society and the environment. A study by the environmental group Platform London showed that shifting to a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year. This represents a reduction of 21.3% – more than the entire carbon footprint of Switzerland and equivalent to taking effectively the entire UK private car fleet off the roads.
An extra day off gives people the opportunity to be more engaged citizens and fight for the future that they want, allowing for a healthy democracy to prosper. When asked how they would use an extra day off if they were working a four-day week, one in five workers said they would use the day to volunteer.
Although more and more women are participating in paid labour, gender norms around work have failed to shift. Women are still unequally responsible for caring responsibilities and work longer hours if we combine paid and unpaid labour. Moving everyone to a four-day week would mean that as both men and women are working less, there would be a more equal share of paid and unpaid work such as childcare, housework and caring responsibilities.
Where to next?
In a short space of time, we have made tremendous progress in fighting for a four-day week. However, the momentum must continue. This year will be another big year for the four-day week, with plans for trials in Scotland and hopefully Wales too.
Change can be difficult but the four-day week is perfectly reasonable and attainable. It’s time to create a new model of work that’s fit for the 21st century. The four-day week with no loss of pay is a win-win for everyone and we need to make sure that those in positions of power are aware of how it can transform the world of work for the better.
If you want to find out more about how a four-day week is a win-win for everyone, please come along to out Mini Manifesto launch on 13 June.
- Mariam Salman is the Campaigns Officer for the 4 Day Week Campaign, you can follow her on Twitter here. You can follow and support the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- You can take part in the Four-Day Week Mini Manifesto Launch on June 13th, 2023. The Mini Manifesto is a cross organisation joint initiative which has been backed by the 4 Day Week Campaign, the New Economics Foundation and think tanks Autonomy and Common Wealth. Register here.