The Scottish government has announced they will be trialling a four-day working week, without a loss of pay, with the exact logistics of how it will be carried out yet to be confirmed. With flexible and remote working taking the spotlight in a post-Covid world and a greater focus on wellbeing than ever before, is a four-day week the next logical step to further move towards a more wellbeing orientated approach to working?
The case for a four-day week: logistics
Money saving brand, VoucherCloud polled nearly 2000 UK office workers in 2018 and found that on average they were only fully productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes per day. That is a shocking loss of time to other activities such as:
- Checking social media (the most popular procrastination activity)
- Reading news websites (the second most popular)
- And everything from making hot drinks to calling friends or loved ones
From this survey it is clear that many of those in office jobs are not filling the time they work over five days, rather the opposite. Not only does this five-day working week not seem essential to productivity but research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2020 found that almost 18 million workdays were lost in the year 2019/2020 due to work-related mental health issues.
The mental health issues highlighted in the research ranged from burnout, stress to depression, and anxiety. In response to the HSE’s research the 4 Day Week Campaign pushed again for renewed interest in the change to a four-day working week stating:
“These statistics are shocking and show that the UK desperately needs shorter working hours…It’s very worrying that for the first time ever, mental health is now the biggest single cause of work-related ill health and working days lost.”
The 4 Day Week Campaign had previously commissioned research that found almost 80% of business leaders in the UK would be interested in introducing a four-day working week in response to the increased pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as this relates to mental health.
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The case for a four-day week: a focus on mental health and wellbeing
Last year, Labour party’s Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, Andy McDonald suggested four-day working week in response to the pandemic, he said: “The potential benefits of a four-day week….regarding the importance non-work time for our mental and physical health…should in my view be increasingly trialled with the introduction of more pilot schemes.”
Aside from the important logistical benefits such as increased productivity and less mental health related days off, the positive affect on wellbeing and mental health that shorter weeks or shorter hours allows for is undeniable.
During lockdowns, the enforced remote working whilst juggling all matter of personal life stress over the past year has highlighted just how damaging our western, working culture has become. From parenting, keeping up with continuous housework, strained relationships due to being on top of each other 24/7, caring for sick loved ones, providing extra support for loved ones in isolation to the constant exposure to trauma, death tolls and fear; this year, for many has simultaneously been the final straw and a moment of realisation.
Adopting flexible ideas around a four-day working week enables people to shape their four days in whatever way best suits them and their wellbeing. For example, that one extra day off can be split over two afternoons or used to reduce the overall time spent in work daily.
With this flexibility comes opportunity, for time dedicated to enriching, nourishing activities such as time in nature, picking up a new hobby, exercise, or even more quality time with family. Focusing on yourself for a day, or on an activity that can be enjoyed with others in your life, increases fulfilment and also provides people with the opportunity to develop their sense of self, outside of their job role.
This extra day can also be utilised to specifically focus on mental health by using it as an elected day for therapy or counselling, instead of squeezing it in during work hours or after work.
The main idea behind this increased time for activities and practices that improve your wellbeing is that this will then have a knock-on effect on the time you are in work, and there’s proof to back it up too.
In 2021, a longitudinal study from Sweden that followed workers for a decade, found that reducing hours reduced exhaustion and work-related burnout, negative emotions whilst at work and stress levels; while a previous Swedish study from 2017 found that six-hour workdays resulted in fewer sick days taken. A 2019 study by Oxford University’s business school also found that worker’s productivity increased by 13% when they were happier.
Considering the extenuating circumstances of the past year - in terms of general anxiety and stress levels being at an all time high, paired with the fact we have all been forced to reconsider the five-day working week in a physical office - it should come as no surprise that the idea of a four-day week is once again being floated.
The ripple effects and ramifications of the past year on our mental health as a nation, and as a people worldwide will be deeply felt and known for years to come, why not utilise the adaptation of a shorter working week in an attempt to tackle that? In light of this undeniable evidence and the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, an age-old question comes to mind: if not now, when?