It’s time for a four-day work week, argues labour expert

The four-day work week is the holy grail for may workers. The feeling of every week being a bank holiday week would be bliss, and then when a bank holiday comes around, it’d just be three days in the office! Superb.

Thankfully, the four-day working week could well become a reality thanks to the rapid adoption of technology both in and out of the workplace. Speaking at the Trade Union Congress’ annual gathering in Manchester, the organisation’s general secretary Frances O’Grady backed the four-day working week as a very real possibility.

“I believe that in this century, we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone,” she said. In her eyes, the 21st century is in “a time of rapid industrial disruption” and so is the opportune time to “take back control of working time”.

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O’Grady isn’t the first to make such claims on a four-day working week, it’s been on the minds of many as a real possibility for years. Serial entrepreneur and the UK’s eighth-richest citizen Richard Branson also believes the five-day working week needs to be readdressed.

“Ideas such as driverless cars and drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future,” wrote Branson on a blog post in January. “On the face of it, this sounds like bad news for people. However, if governments and businesses are clever, the advance of technology could actually be really positive for people all over the world. It could help accelerate the marketplace to much smarter working practices.”

We already know that things like the “gig-economy” are shaping modern work, and the change in how younger people perceive jobs and job worth is also shifting. It’s one reason why the idea of universal basic income is slowly growing to become an attractive option for many. It’s become a reality in a number of cities and it seems to be working out.

A shorter working week is a slightly different proposition, however. It may also sound like quite the pipe dream too, something that’s great for those in a position of power to proclaim as the future, while the people who work the jobs can’t help but work more than ever.

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However, in a trial of the four-day working week by a New Zealand firm it turns out that shorter working weeks are actually beneficial for everyone involved. Employees are happier, less stressed and productivity is up. Business is booming and benefiting from the new vigour employees have.

The 240-strong trust-management firm Perpetual Guardian paid its workers the same five-day working week wage but only asked them to come in for four. Across the two-months trial, 78% of employees said they could effectively balance their work and home commitments – a figure that was just 58% the year before, according to The Guardian.

Its findings from trials like this that push forward the case for the four-day working week. As O’Grady points out in her TCU speech, we once had to argue for the eight-hour working day, so this is just another point that will eventually change.

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