ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

Why four day working weeks are the future

Corbyn's got the right idea with six hour working days, just the wrong solution

Why four day working weeks are the future
09 August 2016

Let me guess what you did at work today.

You rocked up at 9am on the dot, spent the first 15 minutes sorting a brew out, the next 15 doing a bit of easy work admin, the next 15 minutes checking Facebook and Twitter and then the 15 minutes after that sending links to said banterous material to your mates via email. Hey presto, it's 10am. Another brew and then pedal to the metal through to lunchtime - well, 12:30pm to be precise, then a bit of clockwatching until 1pm. Back into the office for 2pm, work for an hour or two. More clockwatching from 4pm. Another brew at 4:30pm and you're basically home. Solid stuff.

And then once you've battled home on your commute, made your dinner and slumped in front of the telly for an hour? Oh, it's bedtime. And if you've actually been working hard all day, you'll probably be asleep before you've even got your hour's viewing in.

Obviously, this is a simplification - and if you don't work in an office, then it may be a whole different kettle of fish - but it's the sort of thing that Jeremy Corbyn was referring to when he suggested that the Labour Party would be looking at working practices such as a six hour day in their upcoming Workplace 2020 initiative, which aims to investigate ways of improving the workplace and workers' rights.

The six hour working day has been trialled on and off in Sweden since 1989, with seemingly universally-positive results. It recently gained headlines due to an actual, measurable and quantifiable trial which has been running at a Swedish nursing home since the middle of last year, which has seen some workers work shorter days, with the control group sticking to their usual eight. 

"It is too early to draw any firm conclusions, but nurses working shorter hours are taking less sick leave and report being less stressed... right now, we're only looking at early indications, but we can see that the quality of work is higher," said Bengt Lorensson, the lead consultant contracted by Gothenburg City Council to analyse the data collected.

Frankly, it's obvious that this would be the case. More free time means more time to relax at home, and heal, which would result in fewer sick days being taken. Meanwhile, I think we can all agree that, if pushed, most of us could do in six hours what we stretch out to fill eight hours. Some companies have taken to trialling this shorter day by 'nannying' their workers - banning social media and effectively forcing workers to get on with their work, while at work, as, ultimately, it will be better for them.

So, with early indicators that everyone wins, surely this is an idea that should soon be considered for widespread adoption?

Well, I would argue that the six-hour working day is the right idea, but the wrong solution.

If you really want to change people's lives, the way to do it is to implement a four day working week instead (essentially packing a 40hr working week into 32hrs). The result would be the same net hours, but with one less commute, and an entire extra day to play with. A six-hour working day which gives you longer evenings are undoubtedly useful - an extra hour or two to watch that film, or play with the kids - but a whole extra day? That's potentially life-changing.

Imagine the impact you could have on society if the government stepped in to aid you in the use of that extra day. Imagine subsidised sports, arts and social clubs filling up as people finally had the time to get into tennis like they always said they wanted to, or you finally got the chance to learn the guitar like you promised you would when you were younger - but you never got round to it.

Imagine a nationwide scheme to help you volunteer for a charity on your spare day. Or to go and cook a meal and spend time with an elderly neighbour on your street. Or to run classes - academic or sporting - for local kids, mentoring them to help them achieve their full potential.

Let's be honest, with a two day weekend, what do you do? Maybe one activity you want to do for yourself, a whole load of life admin that you don't get the chance to do in the week, and then the rest of it recovering from the week just gone, and preparing yourself for that week ahead. No one can be blamed for not being able to take up a hobby, or volunteer that precious time to doing good in the community.

But with an extra day a whole new world could be opened up. Everyone would be better off. Choosing the sporting route? Instantly, the health of all of those taking part would improve. Choosing a hobby? Imagine the sense of wellbeing you'd get; the sense of achievement and the extra skills you'd gain. Charity? Doing good for others is relaxing and makes you feel good - it's not a one-way donation. And in all of them, you'd meet new people, and make new friends - and you'd work harder in those four days that you were in work, as you'd have those three days to look forward to.

This solution would also reduce the strain on public services, as one fifth of the usual hordes would automatically be absent from crowded trains and buses, freeing up more space for everyone else.

A spare day a week could be used to help elderly people in your community

I'm willing to bet that a whole load of people would gladly fit their five days' worth of work into four if it meant they had a day less to endure being stuck on that train in, and staring at a screen all day. It would also make more sense than a six-hour day for other jobs where there is an daily set up and clear away time consideration.

Now, the chances of the current Conservative government subscribing to this point of view - considering they've spent the last six years endeavouring to cut the support for precisely this sort of activity - is remote. But, hey, like a lot of other things this government objects to, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

You want to help heal the society that has been fractured by politics of hate and fear spurred by the Referendum? You want to help neighbours get to know each other again, and to start bringing communities - together again? To improve the health of the nation? To expose people of different ages, classes, ethnicities and religions to one another on a weekly basis, to help foster understanding and acceptance of our differences - and similarities?

Well, it's not a bad place to start.

(Images: iStock/Rex)