Four-day working week: Why it is time to consider switching how we work as a society - Mark Casci

The five day working week has been drummed into our consciousness now for so many generations that the phrase “Monday to Friday” is common parlance for the days that we work.

Unlike other measurements of time such as the calendar year and the day, the seven day week is a construct created by humans rather than the universe.

Nor is seven days the other definition of a week in history. The Ancient Egyptians measured their weeks as being 10 days long.

For a while the Ancient Romans ruled much of Europe on an eight-day week.

A pilot of a four-day working week is underway.

This month in Britain another attempt is being made to redefine time. A pilot over the feasibility of a four day working week is underway, with more than 3,000 workers at 70 companies involved.

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The four-day week is not a new idea. Richard Nixon predicted while he was president of the United States that he believed it would happen in the future.

The rationale behind it is manifold. Its evangelists say the five day week is a 20th century concept that does not fit with the modern economy.

It is argued increased personal time will benefit workers and firms.

The move towards dropping a day out of the regular working week took a giant step forward with the pandemic.

Society has been speeding up consistently for decades. Covid was the first time in a long time that it slowed down and took a breath. Suddenly people were re-evaluating what was important to them.

And while many decided to renovate their home or move to a new one, many decided their career was not working for them. This has led to the so-called “great resignation” and as a result virtually every sector of the economy is facing a shortage of labour. So now, more than ever, the issue of attracting and retaining the best talent is at the forefront of CEO’s minds.

Whether it is banking, professional services, tech or manufacturing, companies are in serious competition when it comes to getting hold of and keeping the best staff.

More family time can lead to a more productive workforce, campaigners claim.

But the argument does not stop with employees. Employers, it is argued, will see higher performance and profits from the dropping of a day.

A Henley Business School study in 2021 estimated that UK businesses would save a combined £104bn a year if a four-day week was implemented. Tech firm Bolt enjoyed record revenues the year it shifted to four days.

Then there is society. Parts of the UK workforce suffer from overwork, unemployment and underemployment. It is claimed a four-day week is an intuitively simple way to rebalance the economy. Less time at work could give people more time to focus on our health and wellbeing, and prevent and address any issues or illnesses. A more equitable share of paid and unpaid work, including of caring roles traditionally ascribed to women, could improve gender equality.

Finally, it is claimed less commuting will drop our carbon footprint, helping minimise environmental damage.

All of this sounds too good to be true and probably is. How would it factor into those in healthcare and in the gig economy has yet to be explained.

While similar studies abroad have shown the benefits of less hours, others have been shown to identify serious problems, notably around the claim on productivity.

All of these studies took place pre-Covid however and the thirst for change is powerful.

At the very least a four-day working week is worthy of serious consideration. It could be the seismic change that solves many of our most profound problems.

That said, Monday to Thursday doesn’t have the same ring does it?