Four days for work, three days for play. And both managers and workers can see the value
We have been advocates for a shorter working week from the start of A/UK. Tech productivity should be translated into more free time for the same wages - it benefits people’s health, their public realm, their family lives.
What’s great about this well-researched Open Democracy piece by the NEF’s Aidan Harper is that it gives so many concrete examples of not just workers’ organisations, but employers and entrepreneurs also looking at the possibilities for progress in reducing working hours (without reducing pay).
We have dug a little deeper into his examples, and provided English-language references and links.
Says OD: “Small businesses are forming a rapidly growing vanguard in working time experimentation. Just as Henry Ford’s successful implementation of a five-day 40-hour week in 1926 formed the basis of his company’s success and paved the way for other companies to adopt similar practices, innovative companies are experimenting with the four-day week today.”
Radioactive PR in Gloucester has also reduced hours without reducing pay. Rich Leigh, founder at Radioactive PR, said: “Presenteeism is good for nothing and nobody, and I’ve long thought that overworking and unrealistic expectations on staff time runs counter to results, especially in an industry where, last year, 60% of people surveyed said they’d experienced mental ill health.”
Rhenigan’s Digital Enabler in Germany went down to a 25 hour week (or 5 hour day). Said founder Lasse Rhenigan: "We need fewer and fewer people, be it in trade, medicine or production. But the people you do need have to be creative, motivated, well-rested, satisfied and they have to be damn good. You need more and more at the peak of their cognitive performance. And you can't ask that of someone you're keeping in an office over eight hours. You don't need an eight-hour day in a society like ours anymore."
Femma in Belgium, a women’s advocacy organisation, practices and advocates for a 30 hour work week, “so that women and men share paid and unpaid work equally and can combine both spheres of life in a quality manner”. Here’s their website, and a research exercise on them.
Jason Stockwood of Simply Business shifted a call centre to a four-day week on five-day’s pay. The means was a new AI system that has increased productivity. He says: “The intention, through doing new things both with and without technology, is to improve efficiency to the point where the operation can run on fewer human hours, and to share the benefits of that change with employees as well as shareholders.”
Says OD: “Trade unions have always been at the core of movements for working time reduction. It is because of them we have a two-day weekend and an eight-hour day”. They’re stretching for the next frontier:
IG Metall union in Germany negotiated the right to move towards a 28 hour working week;
The FNV union in the Netherlands struck some ‘generational pacts’ (older workers shorten hours to give opportunities to younger workers);
The CGT Union in France started in 2015 campaigning for a 32-hour week.
The European Trade Union Federation released a report making the case for a reduction in working time across Europe,
The Trades Union Congress in the UK released a report making the case for a four-day week in response to the application of new technologies. 81% of their worker-members said they’d like to reduce their working hours in the future.
In the UK, the Communication Workers Union won a 35-hour week (down from 39) for the 120,000 postal workers, directly tied to the automation of the parcel packaging process. Says OD: “Their case was that benefits accrued from increased productivity as a result of automation should be shared fairly with workers in the form of work-time reduction”.
Irish trade union Fórsa ran a conference on working time reduction last week.