Topic: Policies for a Fairer Economy
Group members: Ellie, Jonathan, Mack & Nour
There have been increasing calls in recent years for a transition to a four-day working week. A popular model for the four-day week would mean that people work fewer hours while keeping 100% of their pay. This is not only due to technological advancements making workplaces more automated than ever before, but also in the name of a fairer working culture that gives workers a more flexible lifestyle while maintaining – or even improving - levels of productivity. Trials of the four-day working week in a host of countries have also demonstrated increases in job satisfaction and a better work-life balance, spurring the movement on to hopefully become a reality in the near-future.
The concept of reducing working hours is nothing new; the current five-day working week was established as a norm around a century ago, after workers previously dedicated six days out of seven to their job. When advocating for a four-day working week, proponents usually suggest the 100-80-100 model, whereby workers receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their time – in exchange for 100% of the productivity.
Businesses tend to be more cynical towards the concept. In order to be convinced, they simply need to look at the evidence: one study found that 66% of companies said that they were able to reduce costs. This could, for example, result from lower energy consumption in offices, and savings on employee perks such as a free lunch. Beyond improved employee productivity, overall revenue of companies taking part in one six-month trial were up by over 8%, with revenues increasing by almost 38% when compared to the same six-month period the previous year.
For the worker, the number of sick days decreases. A clear majority of people experience less fatigue, stress and burn-out, in addition to the average employee finding more time to exercise. They also spend less time commuting to work, thereby contributing to fewer carbon emissions due to transport. Furthermore, people are more likely to adopt greener habits, e.g. cycling to work, due to the extra time they gain from reduced working hours.
However, the model is not without its downsides. Workers have sometimes reported companies requiring them to be on call on the fifth day, thus blurring the lines between their work and personal lives. Similarly, some models mandate workers to work longer hours on the remaining four days, sometimes to the detriment of work-life balance and potentially productivity.
Furthermore, employers reported a reduced sense of camaraderie amongst employees, as the focus turns to productivity at the expense of collaboration amongst a close-knit team. Another interesting effect is that employers reported being less satisfied with their workers’ performance, perceiving them to be less productive, despite research pointing to the opposite. While actual productivity may increase, a reduction of perceived productivity could be detrimental to workers’ prospects within their organisation.
In conclusion, trials of the four-day working week have demonstrated that businesses can maintain productivity and even increase revenues, while providing their employees with the benefits of a more flexible schedule, better health, and the same level of pay. Employers’ understanding of the scheme, however, has often been varied, so care needs to be taken when rolling out the scheme to ensure that the wellbeing of employees is not harmed. Overall, the evidence is promising, and while more research needs to be done – particularly in developing countries, which have been thus far overlooked in studies of the new model – a future of working four days a week may not be that far away.