#022 Extend The Weekend
The Four Day Work Week
The demand for a four day week (or time equivalent) is growing rapidly across the progressive movement. Leading the way is the Four Day Week Campaign (https://www.4dayweek.co.uk/) alongside progressive think tanks such as the New Economics Foundation and Autonomy UK, who have both released detailed reports advocating for change in this direction. Here I seek to briefly explore the idea and look at what it might mean for individuals, employers and British society more broadly.
The four day week idea seeks to reduce the standard work week in Britain from 37.5 or 40 hours per week by 20% or more to approximately 30 hours per week, manifest as four days working and three days off each week, or alternatively five six hour days of work per week, without loss of pay. This could reduce the rate of exploitation, in the marxian conception of the term, increase the hourly rate of pay and help re-dress the balance between the share to profits going to workers, set against the share going to corporate shareholders (owners).
The most important thing to say is that the demand for a four day week is in no way utopian and has precedent both historically and in Britain today.
The standard eight hour, forty hour week has its origins in the industrial trade union movements of 19th Century Britain and in other trade union movements across the developed world, both in Europe and in the United States. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the five day week was gradually adopted across the world and represented a significant change to the working lives of millions of people. As early as the second decade of the 19th Century, a Welsh textile manufacture and social reformer Robert Owen initiated the eight hour day goal and coined the slogan, ‘Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest’, as part of his early socialist ‘New View For Society’ vision. Then in Britain in the 1880s an organisation named the eight hour league successfully pressured the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to adopt the eight hour day as a key demand, which contrasted markedly from the twelve to eighteen hour six day weeks that were common at the time.
The four day week demand, here in the twenty first century, is therefore a fairly modest progression of this two hundred year old idea progressive achievement and builds upon the valuable historical struggles that gave us free time in the form of evenings and weekends. In 2018 the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) actually endorsed the idea directly, albeit as ‘plausible for the 21st century’, which highlights the historical context to which this idea should be placed.
British companies right now are also choosing to trial and adopt the four day week model, some examples of this are linked below,
How a four-day week has changed our lives
A year ago, employees at this company were told they'd be working 9am - 5:30pm, Monday-Thursday.
There are at least three key reasons companies are deciding to do this, these are increased economic productivity, reduced stress & fatigue for working individuals and environmental benefits such as a reduction in consumption linked ecological and carbon footprints. One study (https://4dayweek.com/access-white-paper) showed that the four-day working week could mean no fall in output, relative to a five day week, which equates to a 20% increase in productivity, this emphasises the progressive demand that workers should not lose pay for a change of this type. Equally another study found that working part-time (25 to 30 hours a week) had a positive impact on cognitive function, for Australians aged over 40, but for those working more than three or four days a week, research found stress and fatigue could erase those positive impacts. This means that not only could a four day week potentially not be damaging for productivity, which is in the interests of companies and the economy more generally, it could also be healthy for individual workers. With regards to environmental benefits one study concludes the following and places the reduction in work hours central to environmental action in the context of slower or zero global economic growth going forward,
“On the whole, the results demonstrate that working time is a significant contributor to environmental problems and thus is an attractive target for policies promoting environmental sustainability…Research suggests that reduced work hours could contribute to sustainability by decreasing the scale of both production and consumption.We tested this idea using panel data for 29 high-income OECD countries. Overall, we found that countries with shorter work hours tend to have lower ecological footprints, carbon footprints, and carbon dioxide emissions. Our results suggest that working hours should be placed squarely at the centre of economic analyses and concerns.”
“One of the best things you can do to address climate change is go down to a four-day working week”
(Tom Bailey, head of sustainable consumption at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group)
Furthermore, the political demand for time is as fundamental to a progressive movement as it gets because time is the most important commodity any of us have as mortal human beings. A move such as this could enrich people’s lives by delivering more time for all manner of activities including spending time with friends and family, pursuing hobbies, cooking, community work, volunteering, exercising, collective and political action, events &talks, cleaning, childcare, self-education, resting and fun in general. A healthier work life balance will lead to higher job satisfaction and likely improve the fulfilment people feel with their lives generally.
Additionally, as the economy automates human labour away increasingly to sophisticated robotics and artificial intelligence, a four day week would allow the human labour required in the economy to be more evenly distributed between individual workers, reducing technological unemployment, and allowing workers to benefit from technological innovation, rather than the benefits going exclusively to capital. Andrew Yang, for instance, a 2020 Democrat Party US presidential candidate, has much to say on automation’s effect on jobs in the United States of America, which is where the demand links with other progressive ideas explored elsewhere such as universal basic income, universal basic services, higher (minimum and living) wages and trade unions and stronger collective bargaining.
Moreover it’s not just the United Kingdom exploring the four day week idea, many countries around the world, particularly in Europe, are also seriously considering the four day week idea, the Republic of Ireland for instance,
In conclusion then it’s clear the progressive demand for a four day week, although not straight forward to implement across multiple sectors, has significant benefits that make the idea worthy of thorough and serious investigation which, alongside effective promotion, could propel the idea further into mainstream consciousness. Given the rich trade union history, the environmental challenges, the productivity and health benefits for individuals & businesses and the rapidly evolving fourth industrial revolution of the twenty first century all coming into play, the four day week offers us a genuine opportunity to begin to take society forward and above all start of take back control of more of our mot valuable resource, time.