Tuesday 1st Oct 2019
In recent months, and indeed days, we’ve seen increasing calls to shorten the working week for the average British worker. The Labour Party at their annual conference recently announced that they would look to reduce the working week down from five days to four, or the equivalent within the next decade for example. And this isn’t a new thing; many groups have advocated for changing the way we work. But would this be a good thing, or is it simply wishful thinking?
It sounds counter-intuitive, but there are those who believe that cutting down on hours could actually increase productivity, or at least ensure that reducing hours doesn’t decrease it. This stems from the idea that the five-day working week is in many ways an arbitrary structure, and that it might not actually be best for us as people - or indeed as businesses.
Before announcing their policy, Labour had a report carried out, looking into the viability of cutting down from five days to four (or at least reducing overall hours through shorter days of more holidays). This report was undertaken by Lord Skidelski, who is an economics historian and former member of both sides of Britain’s political spectrum. While the report ultimately said that legislating for such a change - particularly in a way that would impose caps - was not realistic or achievable. It did clearly recommend that working hours could be cut without a reduction in productivity or pay - it simply has to be more of a natural change.
More free-market think tanks, such as the Adam Smith institute, believe that it’s not possible to cut hours without cutting pay, but there are business leaders that are more positive about the concept. The reason is that there’s a strong belief that people are willing to work harder and in a more productive way when they’re rewarded with more time off. Productivity is not linear throughout the week, and different people will have differing abilities when it comes to being more productive in a shorter span of time. There’s nothing to say that there aren’t many people out there that work five days, but could exert more effort and do the job in four.
It’s unlikely that Labour’s policy will be viable - capping hours or capping days is too unrealistic - but a trend towards more condensed days or fewer hours is certainly on the horizon, and businesses that can make it work without losing productivity could well attract the best and brightest.