Goodbye to the five day week?

By Joe Ryle

According to a new poll released this week by the pollster Survation, the idea of moving to a four-day working week is more popular than ever before with the British public.

Two thirds, including 55% of Conservative voters, want Boris Johnson to pilot a four-day week with no loss of pay for workers. Survation’s Director of Strategic Communications, Carl Shoben, said: “The polling on a four-day week consistently shows that support has grown since Covid.”

We know that the Covid pandemic has upended traditional working practices and given some time for much needed reflection but will these conversations result in permanent change? The signs are looking good.

The Spanish and Scottish Government’s have both announced national level pilot schemes to find out whether the four-day week can improve work-life balance. Even the Japanese Government has proposed a four-day week in a country where they have their very own term for “death from overwork”.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said in response to the Scottish Government’s pilot announcement that the Prime Minister had “no plans for a four day week” in the UK. However, the Chairman of the Government’s Task Force on Flexible Working says differently.

Speaking to Politico this week, Peter Cheese, CEO of the The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said: “What we refer to as the standard five-day working week, that’s what will begin to change. And it could emerge in lots of different forms, one of which could be a four-day working week.”

It is undoubtedly very significant that the UK Government are seriously considering the four-day working week as part of their agenda on flexible working.

All of this leaves us wondering: but where are the Labour Party?

To her credit, Angela Rayner made a very welcome policy announcement last week when she called for a law change so that workers have the right to flexible working in the future. But the Party doesn’t appear to have have an overall vision or strategy for communicating what their version of the future world of work looks like. Perhaps we will see some improvement in this area given Rayner’s new brief on the Future of Work.

Keir Starmer’s Head of Policy, Claire Ainsley, has talked up the importance of the Party focusing on family values, but without any policies to back this up. We know that the four-day week would give people more time to spend with their families, so it could be the perfect fit for communicating this vision.

What is evidently clear is that Covid has helped move the four-day week from being a pipedream to a realistic prospect for the future – certainly compared to when Jeremy Corbyn backed the idea at the 2019 election.

Numerous studies have shown that a four-day week with no loss of pay is achievable through greater productivity. When Microsoft in Japan trialled it in 2019, productivity jumped by 40% and global giant Unilever alongside many other companies are increasingly beginning to adopt and trial it.

In the UK, British workers put in some of the longest working hours in the world, while having one of the least productive economies and the fewest number of bank holidays.

Covid has thrown the world of work totally up in the air and we have a unique opportunity to kill off the outdated 9-5, five days a week model. We invented the weekend over a century ago and as the Survation poll has shown; the British public are ready for an update.

Joe Ryle is a campaigner with the 4 Day Week Campaign and a former adviser to former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP and a former Labour Party Press Officer.

Subscribe to the blog for email notifications of new posts