Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner has called on the Welsh government to pilot a shorter working week, which is believed could create thousands of jobs and help develop a happier and healthier workforce.
Sophie Howe, whose role involves protecting the interests of future generations under the country’s Well-being of Future Generations Act, said the concept of a shorter working week was appealing as it could increase productivity, improve work-life balance, and help people care for loved ones as the population ages and demand for care rises.
There is significant support for a shorter working week in Wales, with 57% of the public stating that they would support a four-day week pilot by the Welsh government, and 62% saying they would choose to work a four-day week or less, a report published by the Future Generations Commissioner and think-tank Autonomy has found.
The report says a potential move to a shorter working week should involve three steps:
- Trialling shorter working hours in parts of the public sector
- Encouraging and supporting private sector firms to transition to shorter weeks
- Collaborating with and empowering trade unions to negotiate shorter hours in workplaces.
It estimates that a four-day week in the Welsh public sector would:
- Create 37,859 jobs, including 26,951 full-time roles
- Amount to 10.5% of the public sector wage bill, or 6.7% if it was only introduced for full-time staff
- Amount to 2.5% of Wales’ current public sector spending.
“A shorter working week can result in increased productivity which will be of huge benefit to employers for a happier, healthier workforce,” said Howe.
“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.”
Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy, said: “All the evidence suggests that a shorter working week with no loss of pay would be a win-win for both workers and employers in Wales.
Four-day work week
“Countries across the world including Scotland and Ireland have already launched four-day week trials and a radical Welsh Government should be leading the way on this too.
“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. The potential benefits are too large to ignore.”
The report finds that the current pressures of paid and unpaid work have left many people in Wales with little time for self-care, relaxation, exercise, and healthy eating. Working time was a particular concern for people with pre-existing health condition.
One worker told researchers: “At the moment there just aren’t enough hours in the day, in my spare time I have to choose between study and family. This is detrimental to all of us as we’re not spending enough time together, and it’s damaging my mental health because I feel perpetually guilty. Working a few days less would mean I didn’t have to make that impossible choice.”
It also claims that a shorter working week would reduce carbon emissions because less time would be spent commuting. A separate study by Autonomy found that a four-day week across the economy would reduce UK carbon emissions by 117,000 tonnes per week (equivalent to removing 1.3 million cars off the road annually).
The report suggests that shorter weeks could be encouraged in the private sector via public sector procurement strategies, as well as a “working time committee” involving trade unions, politicians and businesses.
The majority of medium- and large-sized Welsh firms can afford to move to shorter working hours in the long term, it says. Using an initial “stress test” simulation it concluded that working time reduction was a feasible goal for most of the private sector in Wales.
Slunks hair salon in Cardiff, which operates a four-day week with no reduction in pay for full-time staff, has seen productivity, wellbeing and turnover improve since it was introduced in 2020.
Owner Joel McCauley said: “I’ve seen young people in the industry turn to drugs and alcohol because they’re exhausted and they don’t have the time to make changes to their life. Six-day weeks, back-to-back clients, moving from job-to-job because they have no time to think or plan what you’re going to do next.
“Anxiety is rampant in the industry and I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression and it can mainly be attributed to the amount of hours I was working. I got burn-out.
“[A shorter working week] is simply a better, healthier way of working.
“When you have more time, you can think about life in a different way. At work, you’re likely to have more energy and fewer non-productive days. Outside work, you can be a better person, a better parent, a better member of the community.”