A four-day working week has been on Labour’s agenda for some time now. Tory critics are determined such a development would wreck the economy, however, they fail to acknowledge the many benefits a longer weekend would bring to the economy and the wellbeing of employees.
At the annual Labour Party held in Brighton on September 23, Shadow Chancellor John McDonell declared that if there was a Labour government, they will reduce the working hours to 32 hours within the next decade, for the same salary. McDonell said, “We should work to live, not live to work.”
Although a bold ambition, it is the right one. There is a compelling amount of evidence which suggests that the economy would benefit. The primary cause of sick leave is work-related stress, which sets the economy back by millions of pounds each year.
Hunley Business School recently conducted a study involving 250 firms trying out the 4-day week model. The results were promising, as productivity, the level of worker recruitment and retention improved, collectively saving the companies £92 billion each year.
The average working week in the UK is 42.5 hours, in comparison to the EU average of 41.5 hours. A small number of companies in the UK have already made the switch and have found that a shorter week improves employee satisfaction and better performance.
As well as these important factors for businesses, such as improved productivity, the most important thing to consider when discussing human issues is the experience of the people themselves. In this capitalist society, work takes up a huge amount of our time. People spend most of their waking hours at work, sometimes in unfulfilling roles, struggling with a high cost of living, knowing this will be the same until retirement at an increasing age.
In this system, people are seen as resources, not as individuals. It's no surprise that this causes stress, poor mental wellbeing and drastic measures such as 'quitting the rat race' completely. Alternate structures could create a far healthier 'work life balance', where people can achieve personal goals and not identify primarily as an employee. It's important to also bare in mind that the 5 day working week is a societal construct... If there is research to prove that a 4 day week works, and that business can improve, then why not do it already!
Conservatives have been quick to mention that research has shown France’s attempts to instate a 35-hour working week, drastically backfired. Employers froze wages and recruited less as a result. However, McDonnell has promised a thorough execution of the plan, ultimately benefiting everyone.
A shorter working week could go as far as making consumption habits more environmentally friendly. The more time people have they are more likely to think about their effect on the climate, by changing their mode of transport or preparing healthier meals rather than picking up fast food.
Labour has also agreed to set up a Working Time Commission as quickly as possible, which will advocate increases in statutory annual leave, without increasing levels of unemployment. A change strongly endorsed by the Trade Union Congress.