Plan for three-day weekend gathers support

Imbalance: The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime.

Would a four-day working week make us happier? Finland’s PM has called for a drastic cut in working hours. Experts believe extra free time would make people more positive and productive.

It is 3:00pm on a grey, Thursday afternoon in downtown Helsinki. But workers look surprisingly cheerful. Some are heading to the sauna; others are going ice skating. Monday morning seems far away.

Could this really happen?

On the face of it, the answer is yes.

“Finland to introduce a four-day working week and SIX-HOUR days under plans drawn up by 34-year-old prime minister Sanna Marin,” proclaimed the Daily Mail. The Guardian told readers Marin had made a “promise” to her people. The news was soon all the way round the globe, right to the very tip of Australia.

The truth, as ever, is somewhat more complex.

Marin did indeed propose a three-day weekend – but that was in August before she became PM. For now, it remains an idea, but not yet strictly government policy.

So, why such excitement? In 2018, 94% of US and UK workers said they suffered from stress. Supporters of the four-day week say there is gathering evidence that working less will make us happier.

The idea hit the headlines when the UK Labour Party pledged to cut the working week to 32 hours, “with no loss of pay, funded by productivity increases” in their 2019 manifesto.

In August 2019, Microsoft Japan gave its 2,300 employees Fridays off. The results were astonishing. Workers seemed happier, and productivity increased by 40%. Enthusiasts say experiments like this prove the four-day week is more than just a fantasy.

The environment benefits from employees driving less and cutting their carbon footprint. At Microsoft Japan, electricity use fell by 23%.

So, why do we still work five days?

In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would only work for 15 hours a week. He was wrong.

There are practical concerns – the Swedish city of Gothenburg’s six-hour day trial ended with worries about the project’s costs. Cutting hours increases the pressure to get more done in less time.

Critics such as MEP Daniel Hannan say working less would not make us happier anyway. Many people enjoy their job, and most would rather work longer to afford luxuries.

The Chinese billionaire and co-founder of the online shopping giant Alibaba, Jack Ma, believes that a 9:00am to 9:00pm working day, and a six-day week (“996 system”) is a “blessing”, and that people love to work hard.

So, would a four-day working week really make us happier?

Out of office?

Yes, say some. The benefits are obvious. A four-day week would mean more leisure time. Men and women could finally have equal time for childcare: workplace gender inequality could be eliminated. There is no need for compromise – increases in productivity mean it is possible to work less for the same wage. Now is the right time to overhaul the five-day working week.

No, say others. Few radical ideas are 100% problem-free. Not everyone is the same. Some people love their jobs, or prefer to work more to afford life’s luxuries. The government should not decide how long we can work. Having less time to complete work causes – not cuts – stress. It is naive to think that all businesses can cut hours without cutting pay. Happiness is about more than just free time.

You Decide

  1. Should schools also switch to a four-day week?
  2. Is hard work the best route to success?

Activities

  1. Writer a description of your perfect, three-day weekend on one side of paper.
  2. Different countries have different laws about how many hours it is legal to work per week. Research the country with the longest working hours and the shortest working hours. Now which one would you prefer to live in? Write a list of five reasons why.

Some People Say...

“There is joy in work […]. There is no happiness except in the realisation that we have accomplished something.”

Henry Ford (1863-1947), founder of the Ford Motor Company

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
When the then Finnish transport and communications minister tweeted that “shorter working hours can and should be discussed” last August, it received limited attention. However, when Marin became PM in December, there was renewed interest in her beliefs. The story quickly spread across media platforms, culminating with its appearance on MailOnline, one of the world’s most popular news websites.
What do we not know?
Whether Sanna Marin will make her idea a reality. Only a few organisations, such as Microsoft Japan or Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, have experimented with the four-day week. Few make permanent changes. At the moment, many of the advantages (like reducing gender inequality and environmental damage) remain assumptions, not facts. With Marin seeming to backtrack on her comments, we do not know if the four-day week plan will grow and become more mainstream, or simply fizzle out.

Word Watch

Sanna Marin
The Prime Minister of Finland since last month. At 34, she is Finland’s youngest-ever PM, and currently the youngest serving state leader in the world.
Policy
A course or principle of action proposed or adopted by an organisation or individual.
Manifesto
A public declaration of policy and aims, often issued before an election by a party or candidate.
Carbon footprint
The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere due to the activities of an individual or organisation.
John Maynard Keynes
One of the most influential British economists of the 20th Century.
MEP
Member of the European Parliament. Daniel Hannan is a member of the Conservative Party.

Subjects

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