As working hours begin to increase across the UK, with the furlough scheme gradually winding down and due to close for good on 30 September 2021, there is growing interest in reports highlighting the benefits of the introduction of a 4 day work week.
In a report from Statista, a company specialising in market and consumer data, as of May 2021 the average number of hours worked by full-time workers in the United Kingdom was 35 hours compared with 33.8 hours worked in the same period of 2020.
During this period, there is a dramatic drop observable between March and June 2020, when the average number of working hours fell sharply due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
A report by the think-tank Autonomy – which is campaigning for a shorter working week without loss of pay – said the majority of 50,000 firms studied would be able to cope with the change through higher productivity or by raising prices.
Using profitability statistics on over 50,000 leading UK firms, Autonomy simulated best and worst case scenarios regarding profit rates under a sudden imposition of a four-day week and found that:
- Under the best-case scenario, a reduction in hours would be entirely offset by increases in productivity and price increases.
- Under the worst-case scenario, a four-day week, with no loss of pay, would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis has passed.
- Under the worst-case scenario, some firms in high-labour cost industries could experience cash flow problems but only if a four day week was implemented too quickly.
The report recommends that the public sector should lead the way in adopting shorter working hours and trade unions should be given a stronger voice to negotiate working time reductions in their specific sectors.
Speaking to Autonomy, Peter Dowd, Labour MP for Bootle and former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “If the Government is serious about levelling up this country then they should consider the four-day week as it represents one of the best opportunities for sharing work more equally across the economy.
“I’m in favour of the four-day week being introduced as all the evidence shows that it would boost wellbeing, improve productivity and give British workers a much better work-life balance.”
A recent report by Forbes highlighted a study of 2,500 workers in Iceland which reportedly achieved similar or improved levels of productivity and dramatic improvements in worker wellbeing. Today around 85% of workers in Iceland are currently, or on the way to, working four days a week instead of five. And even though they’re spending less time at their jobs, their pay hasn’t declined, according to new research by Autonomy.
In Scotland the Scottish Government is being encouraged to “lead the way” and introduce a four day working week for its employees. According to a poll of 2,000 Scottish Government workers conducted by Autonomy, the majority believed they could adapt their working methods to suit a shorter week.
A pilot programme examining the positives of a four-day working week in Ireland will be launched in January 2022, as part of the rapidly-growing ‘better4everyone’ campaign from Four Day Week Ireland.
Trials for a 4 day work week are also taking place in Spain, Sweden, Japan, USA and New Zealand.
A poll by Survation (commissioned by Autnomy) revealed strong support for a four-day week in the UK with no reduction of pay for workers as one of the ways of recovering from the impact of COVID-19.