Workers should only work four days a week as it increases productivity and wellbeing, according to a new think tank report.
The report, from think tank Autonomy, argues that a five-day working week is arbitrarily defined, and has only been a standardised practice for the last 50 years.
Autonomy says the compromise should not come at the cost of workers’ wages, however, and that they should be paid the same for four days’ work as they are currently paid for five.
The think tank argues that in reducing the working week, businesses can actually save money from lost productivity due to the costs of “stress and burnout” associated with long working hours.
The report is backed by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. He says: “This is a vital contribution to the growing debate around free time and reducing the working week.
“With millions saying they would like to work shorter hours, and millions of others without a job or wanting more hours, it’s essential that we consider how we address the problems in the labour market as well as preparing for the future challenges of automation.”
More is less
The report’s authors compare practices in various major economies. Countries such as Norway, the Netherlands and Germany have the highest productivity levels and GDP per person, despite working the shortest hours in Europe.
According to the report, Japan’s cultural practice of working extreme long hours causes an estimated 10,000 deaths per year from overwork.
The report further adds that the impact of fewer working hours would improve mental health, wellbeing, and even the environment – as fewer workers commuting each day would lead to less traffic and therefore pollution.
It also argues fewer working hours would free up more time for people, in particular women under pressure to care for children alongside a full-time job, to participate in the ‘non-paid work’ of looking after family.
This in turns could lead to greater familial stability and lower childcare costs for parents.
Successful examples of reduced working hours cited in the report include care home nurses in Sweden whose working hours reduced from eight to six hours; it was found that health and wellbeing, in particular of nurses aged over 50, improved considerably.
The experiment net cost was an extra £500,000 to normal expenditure, owing to the need to hire more staff to cover the working requirements of the nurses.
Another example cited as successful is the Toyota factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, where shorter working hours led to greatly increased productivity and a 25% increase in profits.