Imagine finishing work on a Thursday evening and then not having to go back to your employer until Monday morning?

The idea of a four-day working week is what an increasing number of economists, thinktanks and even businesses are contemplating for a whole variety of different reasons including increased productivity, greater work-life balance and more efficient use of resources within both large and small organisations.

Whilst some in industry may be thinking that this may have a negative impact on their businesses, the reality is that for many years there has been a realisation that too many hours of working are not good for productivity or, more importantly, for the health of workers.

In fact, John Maynard Keynes suggested back in 1930 that advancements in. technology and living standards would result in a fifteen hour week by the end of the century with the main challenge being the use of an individual’s time to live “wisely” rather than working for other people.

And whilst there is some dispute over the reasons for the changes, the Ford Motor Company was one of the first major businesses to change its employment policy to 40-hour weeks with no reduction in wages.

Whilst Henry Ford instigated this revolution over a hundred years ago, there has been very little change in this 9-5 pattern over five working days since (even though the actual number of hours worked per day may have been slightly reduced).

So why has there been a surge in interest in changing work patterns in recent years? There have been a range of particular threats to every employee ranging from increased stress and resulting mental health issues, working patterns which have resulted in a less stable employment situation and the increased threat of automation, particularly in low wage occupations. Indeed, a recent report from the thinktank Autonomy suggested that these trends could be changed by a move towards a shorter working week.

For example, low productivity caused by poor mental health and wellbeing could be addressed through a shorter working week and result in a happier and more productive workforce with a healthier work-life balance.

This can also lead to good quality, well paid jobs shared evenly, facilitated by raised wages and opportunities to reduce hours via a more efficient and relevant welfare state, resulting in a higher number of quality, well-paid and secure employment opportunities.

Other indirect benefits of reducing the working week would be addressing the current gender imbalance in the workforce - as it could result in increased paternity leave with more time to share caring responsibilities - and helping the environment due to reduced levels of commuting.

But has a reduction in working hours been done successfully? Perhaps the most famous trial for the four day week which has been studied by academics took place in New Zealand where the trust and wills firm Perpetual Guardian abolished one day’s working at the company i.e. for a fortnight, employees were asked to work four instead of five eight hour days (although they were paid exactly the same amount of money).

The result was no reduction in productivity across the business and increased customer service despite a total reduction of nearly 4000 person hours over those two weeks. More importantly, nearly a quarter of the employees said their work-life balance had improved and 7 per cent had lower stress levels.

But it is not only the private sector which has benefited from such changes. Another experiment on shorter working hours, this time by Reykjavik City council over the space of twelve months, saw public sector workers working less for the same productivity levels, greater work satisfaction and fewer sick days.

Of course, there are other options also available in reducing the amount of time in the workplace that have also been seen to have an impact. For example, it has been suggested that a six hour workday may be just as efficient in improving wellbeing and productivity, especially with research showing that the average worker may only be productive for three hours out of every eight hour working day.

Certainly, Swedish businesses and organisations have demonstrated that a six hour week has resulted in a reduction in absenteeism, an improvement in the health of employees and improved productivity.
So could this be done here in Wales and could we take the lead on this agenda? Certainly, I would suggest that the time has come to reconsider how we become a more productive economy not through working harder but by working smarter.

Given the new approach being taken by the current Welsh Government to the development of the Welsh economy, a detailed investigation of this issue of shorter working hours may be something worth considering if we are to create a more productive, efficient and happier workforce to boost our economic performance over time.

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