Idea of shorter working week is gaining momentum
The number of working days in a week varies globally. In some part of the world, the workweek is for 6 days, whereas some parts of the world observe 5.5, 5 or even 4.5 days. There are numerous factors attribute to such differences. Now, when pandemic ravaged the world, it gave humans and corporate society to explore various options from the last 1.5 years. Option in form of flexible working. Such an opportunity led to the discussion about a four-day working week is gaining momentum across the globe.
Consumer goods giant Unilever plans to test a four-day working week in New Zealand, giving staff a chance to slash their hours by 20% without hurting their pay. Some firms in Spain, after the government there, agreed to launch a pilot project for companies that are interested in experimenting with the idea. Details of the trial are still being fleshed out, including how many firms will be involved and how long the trial will last. However, the government is reportedly considering covering the costs that are incurred by participating firms (if there are any) as they switch to a shorter working week in September. Employee pay will be unaffected.
There are numerous unseen and seen advantages from the idea. Here, a principal fellow at the thinktank, Anna Coote, suggests 10 reasons why it could be good for society.
A smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. As a nation, the UK is currently consuming well beyond its share of a natural resource. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment and leave time for living more sustainably.
A stronger economy: If handled properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter workweeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for an hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point. They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles, promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work.
Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiralled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
More time for families, friends and neighbours. Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time. People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more. Shifting suddenly from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.