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Do You Want a Shorter Working Week?

Today, there’s no single definition of a typical working day. Many will go to the office for eight hours, work irregular shifts or set up a laptop in their front room, spare bedroom or favourite coffee shop.

That has massively fuelled the debate about moving away from a traditional five-day working week, with many arguing that switching to a four-day week could improve people’s productivity and work-life balance.

A six-month trial of a four-day working week began in Scotland last month, which sees participating organisations across different sectors doing four days a week with no loss of pay, while committing to maintaining their productivity.

This real-world trial, organised by 4 Day Week Global, is running alongside similar schemes in other countries, including the US, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

This means that in only a few months, we’ll have far more empirical evidence about the costs and benefits of switching to a four-day week, rather than promises, theories and speculations. And that could significantly fuel calls to more heavily embrace this way of working in the future.

The idea of a four-day working week certainly seems popular in Scotland, with research by IPPR Scotland showing that more than eight in ten working-age Scots would back adopting this approach with no loss of pay.

Some 80 per cent of those polled said they believe a four-day working week would improve their wellbeing, while 65 per cent think it would have a positive impact on Scotland’s productivity.

The debate about a four-day working week is raging in Wales as well. Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner and the thinktank Autonomy have prepared a report outlining how this approach could benefit the Welsh public sector, and it’s produced some interesting findings.

For example, estimates suggest a four-day week with no loss of pay would create 37,859 public sector jobs in Wales, including nearly 27,000 full-time positions.

Figures also showed that 62% of the Welsh public would choose to work a four-day week or less if they were given the option.

Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy, said all the evidence suggests this approach would be a “win-win” for both workers and employers in Wales.

“Moving to a four-day week would boost productivity and workers’ wellbeing and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the Welsh public sector,” he commented. “The potential benefits are too large to ignore.”

Sophie Howe, Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, has urged the Welsh government to pilot a four-day working week, as she believes this will lead to increased productivity and a happier, healthier workforce.

“The working week has not changed for more than 100 years, and now seems the perfect opportunity for the Welsh government to commit to a pioneering trial and build evidence for greater change across Wales,” she said.

While polls show that the Welsh and Scottish public are largely in favour of the idea of a four-day week, trials around the world will help to solidify the business case for making this change.

Higher productivity and reduced absenteeism are two obvious benefits, so it will be fascinating to see from the trials what effect a four-day week has had on the balance sheets of participating firms.

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