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Is It Time To Consider A Four Day Week?


The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has received a letter signed by a number of MPs to consider a four day working week given the very likely growing list of unemployed people in the UK, which currently stands at 2.8 million.

As lockdown eases and businesses return, employers, and by implication, their workers, are feeling the burden of maintaining staffing levels given the financial impact of the pandemic and the nervousness about a virus that shows no sign of disappearing. Redundancies are increasing and the concern is that this will be the norm rather than the last resort. The rationale behind a four day week would mean that there would be more work to spread around and reduce unemployment numbers or so says trade unions, academics and MPs (see article). A shorter working week would also mean that for those working from home and those returning to the workplace after a significant period of being at home, as well as those who have continued to work throughout, will have more quality time with family, friends, and their community. It is thought that the biggest impact would be better mental health and well-being as well as well as boosting productivity and thereby the economy and positively impacting the environment.

Reduced hours during times of economic crisis is not unusual and can be achieved in a variety of ways - compressed hours, reduced hours, or it can be implemented at various times of the year for example August holidays. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has already proposed a four day week and paying workers for the full period albeit that they will be working less hours.

Conducting a trial in 2019, Microsoft Japan closed its offices every Friday during August operating a four day week. This saw labour productivity rise by 40% when measured against the same period in 2018. For many people, COVID-19 has reminded them to value their time and how they spend it and the government should consider that people may not be willing to give that up so easily.

We have certainly seen during this time that many workers can and do work quite effectively and productively remotely. However, some businesses may feel a four day week on full pay is perhaps a step too far considering the financial struggles for SME’s during Covid-19 and that some businesses’ expenses will be incurred regardless of the reduction in the working week making it hard to see how this would help unless pay was also reduced. Further this proposal may not work in industries where the workers roles are predominantly more physical – the idea of extending the working day by compressed hours may well therefore have its own health and safety challenges. Clearly the suitability of each job role within each industry will have to be assessed. But if there was ever a time to trial a four day week surely it must be now?

Perhaps the fallacy of the longer working week, i.e. that time worked equals employee productivity, should finally be laid to rest.

At Garden House solicitors we are here to advise on all aspects of employment law including flexible working and family friendly working practices.

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