The new movement for a three-day weekend

Win-win: Perpetual Guardian carried out employee surveys before and after the eight-week trial.

Should we have a four-day week? After trialing shorter working weeks for two months, a New Zealand company found its workers were happier, less stressed and just as effective.

“No downsides.”

That was a New Zealand company’s confident assessment after trialing a four-day working week for two months.

After the trial, Perpetual Guardian found its employees were happier, less stressed and more committed to their work, with no dent in productivity. It will now adopt the new schedule permanently.

This news will please a growing number of voices demanding that a four-day week become the new norm. This month, the UK’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) said advances in technology, especially artificial intelligence, mean we should all need to work less. The Labour Party could adopt the policy for the next general election.

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, most people worked in factories for up to 16 hours a day, six days a week. Early trade unionists battled fiercely for shorter hours, and automated production lines meant output could remain high. The five-day, nine-to-five week was born.

In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that advancing technology would one day mean 15-hour working weeks.

So far, so untrue. Emails and smartphones mean we are now expected to be available around the clock, but campaigners think a new revolution is nigh.

As computers take over more and more jobs, experts say the remaining working hours could be spread more evenly across the population, boosting employment.

That is not all. Multiple studies link long working hours with fatigue, high blood pressure and other health problems, which lower motivation and make staff more likely to take sick days. In the UK, 12.5 million work days are lost each year to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

So a shorter working week could make employees happier, healthier and more productive.

“We can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone,” declared TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

Her enthusiasm is not universal. In The Spectator, Matthew Lynn writes that France’s relatively short working hours caused “permanent mass unemployment”.

Should we have a four-day week?

What a way to make a living

Absolutely, say some. As Parkinson’s Law states, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. A four-day week would just mean workers procrastinate less when they are in the office while improving their well-being and stress levels. This one policy could boost the nation’s health, happiness and productivity.

Don’t be so sure, respond others. In the New Zealand trial, certain departments were exempt due to their workloads and some staff reported more stress due to the time constraints. It simply isn’t practical on a large scale. Besides, the upheaval caused would be hugely disruptive and could have serious economic consequences.

You Decide

  1. Would a four-day week be good for the economy?
  2. Would you rather have good work-life balance or a very successful career?

Activities

  1. Research trade unionism, the Industrial Revolution and important workers’ strikes. Draw a timeline of major changes to workers’ rights in Britain from 1870 to the present day.
  2. Carry out your own research about the pros and cons of a four-day working week. You can use the links in Become An Expert to help. Write one-page on the statement: “A four-day week would transform employment for the better.” Ensure you include arguments on both sides.

Some People Say...

“No man e’er was glorious, who was not laborious.”

Benjamin Franklin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A New Zealand trusts company, Perpetual Guardian, trialed a four-day working week for eight weeks. At the end of the trial, employees reported being happier, less stressed, and more committed and engaged with their work. The company said that productivity was unchanged by the policy, and it will adopt it permanently. The company’s CEO said it had “no downsides”.
What do we not know?
Whether there will ever be a four-day week in the UK. In The New York Times, Amie Tsang says it would probably come as part of a gradual cultural transition over a number of decades, rather than a sudden change. Indeed, there is a growing trend for more flexible working hours in the modern world.

Word Watch

Industrial Revolution
Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a series of scientific discoveries and technological inventions triggered a radical cultural shift first in Britain, and then across Europe. New machines led to the creation of huge factories, steam power became common and cities swelled.
Trade unionists
A trade union is an organisation of workers who come together to achieve better conditions, using their combined power to bargain with employers. The trade union movement took off in Britain in the 1870s.
Automated production lines
The way products are built stage-by-stage in a factory. At one point, humans would perform a different task at every stage but from the early 20th century machinery started to take over.
Available
Some countries have taken measures to combat this. In 2016, French workers won the “right to disconnect” and no longer have to answer work emails outside of office hours.
Short
Compared with the average 40-hour week in the UK. Since 2000, France has had a 35-hour working week.