The concept of the four-day week, where people do the same job for in fewer hours without a loss of pay, is growing in popularity. Not only among labour market economists but also – and many might suggest, unsurprisingly – among the public.
Last week’s confirmation that the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens will enter a power-sharing deal in Holyrood paves the way for an SNP manifesto pledge to establish a £10m fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four-day working week.
The SNP aims to learn from such trials to consider a more general shift to a four day working week, “as and when” Scotland gains full control of employment rights, enabling it to “identify additional employment opportunities and assess the economic impact of moving to a four-day week”.
Scotland’s Institute for Public Policy Research has now published research suggesting overwhelming public support north of the border. Nine out of 10 (88%) of working-age people in Scotland would be willing to take part in the shorter working time trial schemes set to be piloted by Scottish government.
The Changing Times report finds that a shorter working week – in which workers’ hours are reduced without losing out on any pay – could improve wellbeing and help to narrow gender divides, which would contribute toward realising a “wellbeing economy”.
Large-scale trials of reduced working hours in Iceland, the results of which were published this summer, have been an “overwhelming success” and have led to many people reducing their working time permanently. In trials involving almost 3,000 workers across a broad range of occupations, productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces, while worker wellbeing was enhanced across a number of measures.
A key finding in yesterday’s IPPR Scotland report is that any pilot must include a variety of workers and employers across the economy. Unless lower paid sectors are included, and those roles that may be less straightforward to reduce working time for – such as part time work – pilots may not test proposals for shorter-weeks properly.
The IPPR poll found that more than 80% would support the introduction of a four-day working week with no loss of pay, and that it would have a positive effect on their wellbeing. Two thirds (65%) believe a four-day week would have a positive impact on Scotland’s productivity.
Report co-author and senior research fellow at IPPR Scotland, Rachel Statham said: “The Scottish government is right to be trialling a four-day working week because today’s evidence shows that it is a policy with overwhelming public support, and could be a positive step towards building an economy hardwired for wellbeing.
“But any successful transition post-Covid-19 must include all kinds of workplaces, and all types of work. The full-time, nine-to-five office job is not how many people across Scotland work – and shorter working time trials need to reflect that reality. So we must examine what shorter working time looks like from the perspective of shift workers, those working excessive hours to make ends meet, or those who currently have fewer hours than they would like to have.”
The report references trials which include Iceland, New Zealand and Japan, and the researchers highlight the potential tangible benefits for “employees, employers, and Scotland as a whole” if the opportunity of a four-day working week is seized. They found that:
- Decreasing working hours reduces the risk of occupational accidents, and the likelihood of work-related stress and mental illness. It also offers people the opportunity to spend time doing the things that help people stay well, such as spending more time with friends and family (almost 78% said they would spend extra time away from work doing this) and enjoying hobbies (40%).
- Two thirds believe that a shorter working time would boost productivity. But researchers say that to get a better picture of impacts across the economy, trials need to be expanded to cover a range of industries and types of work.
- The four-day week could improve gender equality. Currently, women are more likely than men to work part time, and to have additional unpaid caring responsibilities. The researchers argue that a shorter working week can enable men to take on a greater share of unpaid work, therefore narrowing gender gaps in hours and pay.
The IPPR wants the Scottish Government’s pilots to include people working in non-office-based jobs, people doing shift work, flexible work, those working condensed hours, and those who work part-time. It suggests additional policy measures the Scottish government can take to ensure that workers in these situations do not miss out on benefits of the scheme and are not adversely affected. These include exploring increased annual leave entitlements, shorter daily shifts, and expanded entitlement to other forms of leave including additional bank holidays and better maternity and paternity leave.
Statham added: “It’s time to turn our ambitions to build a Scotland better than before, into reality. That reality has to be a fairer, wellbeing economy in which everyone in Scotland can thrive”.