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The evolution of the working week

Pre-Pandemic, the majority of the UK worked 9 to 5 Monday to Friday.

Then along came Covid and our ‘normal’ rigid working week was overhauled.

Almost 2 years after we were given the order to ‘work from home’, there seems to be an accepted transition across the UK that ‘agile working’ is here to stay. Employees are now given the option to split their time between the office and home.

The concerns that employers had about productivity dwindling under a lack of physical supervision, appear to have been proved wrong and employers offering access to remote work saw an increase in employee well-being, productivity, innovation, and inclusion.

This acceptance of agile working is particularly important for employees with care responsibilities who can adapt their working week around childcare responsibilities or caring for elderly relatives. Studies show that a working mother is 32% less likely to leave her job if her role offers flexible working.

So, agile working seems to have been a success, what next? A shorter working week?

Whilst working a shorter week but receiving the same salary may seem like a fantasy, there are companies across the globe trialling a 4 day week. Around 30 companies in the UK are taking part in the trial which is being researched by Boston College and Cambridge and Oxford Universities, to measure whether employees can operate at 100% productivity despite working 20% less. Some big names that are giving a 4 day week a go in the UK are Canon and Atom Bank.

Shortening the working week is not a new idea, 5 years ago, a Swedish retirement home trialled a 6 hour working day. It was a success, staff were more productive and happier at work. Iceland held the world’s largest trial of a 4 day working week between 2015 and 2019 and productivity remained the same as a 5 day working week and even improved in some cases. Microsoft even began using a 4 day working week in Japan in 2019 and productivity increased by 40%.

The U.S., Spain and Canada are also following suit and running trials this year.

So apart from productivity, that may well reduce when the novelty wears off, why consider a shorter working week?

  1. Happier workers

Giving staff more time off would reduce stress, improve mental and physical health and therefore likely decrease the amount of sickness absences and likely produce a more reliable and dedicated workforce. It also allows time for staff to appreciate the things in life that are important to them like friendships and should promote a less materialistic lifestyle.

  1. Better for the planet

The lower the average working hours of a country correlates to the smaller the country’s carbon footprint.

If the population had more free time they could live more sustainably and move away from convenience led lifestyles because they have little free time outside of their working hours.

  1. Positive for Society

A shorter working week would provide more time for employees to participate in their local community and take notice of local and national issues and campaigns.

  1. Closing the gender pay gap

The Women’s Budget Group produced a report in 2020 which stated that women carry out 60% more unpaid work than men. Women spend twice as much time on unpaid cooking, childcare and housework than men. Moving towards a shorter working week could help change attitudes about gender roles, encourage more equal shares of unpaid work, and help change the perspective on tasks traditionally associated with being a woman’s role.

  1. Solving the childcare crisis

According to Office of National Statistics Survey in 2019, in 73% of families – both parents work. As both parents working has become the norm, and parents are working longer hours, most families are reliant on childcare. A 4-day working week would help parents balance their time better, would reduce the cost of full-time childcare and it would also improve familial relationships.

  1. Setting our children up for the future

A 2019 study found that just 20% of children aged between 6 and 10 years old read with their parents every night. A lot of parents sited that this was because they are too busy. A reduced working week would free up more time to spend with children and improve their reading skills. According to Department for Education, just 73% of children leave Year 6 at the expected standard of reading.

  1. Retirement not as much of a culture shock

Half of adults over the age of 65 experience depression. Retirees can feel as though they have lost their identity transitioning from 5 busy days at work to 7 quiet days, a more flexible working 4-day week could allow this shift to feel a bit more normal.

It remains to be seen how successful a 4-day working week is for companies and how it will be structured, if for example the week is made up of 4 long days e.g., working 8am-6.30pm, but nonetheless, the working week is evolving and attempting to catch up to society.

A calendar showing days of the week