Introducing a four-day working week with no loss of pay in the public sector would create up to half a million new jobs, a think tank has suggested.
Moving to a 32-hour week in the public sector would not only help reduce burnout and work-related stress – which afflicts around two-thirds of UK employees – it would also help limit the increase in unemployment that is expected as the UK emerges from the coronavirus crisis, according to Autonomy.
It said public sector organisations should “pioneer” the shift in working hours and establish a “new standard” for all employment in the UK.
Such a move is estimated to cost between £5.4bn to £9bn a year – the latter of which is around 6% of the public sector wage bill – and would see the most benefit in regions that have been the hardest hit by austerity measures. For example, about one in five people in Doncaster, Bradford and Barnsley work in the public sector, compared with about one in six nationally.
“The time has come for a four-day working week and the public sector should act as the pioneer for it, both as employer and as procurer of services,” said Autonomy’s director of research, Will Stronge.
“To help tackle the unemployment crisis we are facing this winter, a four-day week is the best option for sharing work more equally across the economy and creating much needed new jobs.
“The four-day week makes so much sense as it would boost productivity, create new jobs and make us all much happier and healthier.”
A poll commissioned by Autonomy earlier this year found only 12% of the public opposed the idea of a four-day working week, while 63% wanted the government to explore its introduction.
Joe Ryle, a campaigner with the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “The four-day week is an idea that is gaining momentum across the world right now because people are reimagining a better future for themselves post Covid-19.
“A four-day working week is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we want to be happier, healthier and at the same time more productive at work?”
Some 43 cross-party MPs have signed an early day motion in support of exploring a shorter working week as one way of recovering from the impact of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US found employees were spending 48.5 extra minutes at their desks per day while working from home.
According to academics from Harvard Business School and New York University, who analysed email and calendar data from 3.1 million workers at 21,000 companies in 16 cities across the United States, Europe and the Middle East, the average working day increased largely because more emails were being sent after usual business hours.
Although employees were attending 12.9% more meetings than before the pandemic, the average time of a meeting fell by a fifth. The researchers said this could indicate that workers found it more difficult to engage in virtual meetings than in-person meetings.
The report concluded that it was too soon to establish whether the ‘new’ ways of working were good for employees: “On the one hand, the flexibility to choose one’s working hours to accommodate household demands may empower employees by affording them some freedom over their own schedule.
“On the other hand, the change in work schedule may be a consequence of a blurred distinction between work and personal life, in which it becomes easy to overwork due to the lack of clear delineation between the office and home.”