In the news this week the results finally came out about the benefits of the four day week. A resounding success was the headlines. Happier, less stressed staff, sickness down, and more productivity and profits up. Sign me up. (the four day week didn’t always mean not working one day, it was reducing the hours over the week for the same pay)
The problem is I’m not sure it tells the full story – the 60 or so companies, for a six month period all signed up for this pilot. It wasn’t a randomly selected pilot of 61 businesses – they wanted this (or at least to trial it).
I’ve done a four day week for a couple of years. I loved it. Of course people around me did work on the other day I didn’t. And thank goodness they did, or things wouldn’t get done. And of course I opted not to work on a Friday. But could everyone? I did of course get 20% less pay too, which isn’t what happened in this trial. I don’t know about you, but I’d be happier with a 20% raise overnight.
I think the trial was flawed from the start. I’ve learnt in my many decades of pilots and trials that if you want to make sometime look good choose the places and people where you know it will work, but if you want real data and real experiences then choose a random selection or places where it might cause more problems. These companies in the trial were destined to make this successful – so I don’t think it proves very much.
It’s was only in the 1930’s that the two day weekend really became a thing. I suppose the natural order should say we progress into a four day week, but is that a four day week or four days a week? Or simply less hours? And this for me is the one of the real issues. A four day week for a typical 9-5 company’s roles is great, but that’s not the reality for many people. Often the most poorly paid, people who work shifts, those ‘front line workers’ we praised during the global pandemic – when can they ever imagine doing a four day week? On the same wages? Let me tell you never! Nurses on strike over more pay right now? They are struggling to get a fraction of the cost of living right now.
The business case in many organisations just can’t add up – for example, Tesco wouldn’t say to it’s shop workers to work 20% less for the same money, it couldn’t – and it on top of that need to find 20% more people and pay them 20% more. The maths don’t add up. It also doesn’t work for employee’s either – some people need the money so want to work more, some people just want to work less and have more flexible hours in those types of roles. And what about the people already on part-time contracts, earning less pro-rata – do they all get a raise?
So yet again, the roles that more often get taken up by the working class, less educated, and all too often gendered roles (i.e. women) don’t benefit from “the four day week” while typically other people in more skilled, office based (and all to often now hybrid) roles do. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it just doesn’t seem fair – I also don’t have an answer.
Twenty years ago I would have been, like well that’s their problem – get some skills, change jobs. But I know different now. It’s not easy for everyone to do that. You need privilege and opportunity to change, to build, to develop.
Just like sabbatarianism, who don’t believe in working on a Sunday for religious reasons – often don’t really complain when others have to work to provide services they consume on that same day. But that, I feel, is exactly what the four day week is doing – it works for me, I’m alright jack. But it leaves other even further behind with less time and less money in comparison. It is those roles, those people who end up paying for my four day week – in a worker landscape that is already benefitting others disproportionately post the pandemic.