Economy

Should a four day work week be part of the new normal?

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Even the most spontaneous of us both require – and I think, enjoy – some semblance of routine. Even if you’re someone who enjoys making decisions on a whim, which I’m very much not, that can become disconcerting after a while.

Routines, whether it’s what we do in the morning, evening or on the weekend, can often have a degree of certainty in a volatile world. However, there is a fine line between security and monotony.

When the same tasks are being completed every week, this fuels fatigue and draining motivation. Perhaps I’m particularly biased being in the midst of essay and exam season, but, when one day drags into another, this can be tough at times.

Indeed, the COVID-19 lockdowns were the very definition of no distinction between one day and the next.

Even now that some parts of life have returned to how they were pre-pandemic, weekends are often occupied by chores or preparing for the next week of work.

Though these two days are undoubtedly more calming, they are often not long enough to appreciate the true distinction between work and pleasure.

Stylist magazine reported that the two-day weekend often acts as more of a disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock determining sleep cycles). This means the body feels a sharp jolt when Monday morning arrives.

What a relief then, for Bank Holidays. My admiration and appreciation for them are such that they’ve featured as a core topic in a previous Backbench article of mine.

However, in that article, I didn’t write about the psychological benefits of a three day weekend. By having that extra day off, individuals have a greater chance to sleep, relax and refresh their minds before they return to work.

The benefits of bank holidays are therefore immeasurable in helping to better break uptime. I’ve often found I’m most productive in two situations. Firstly, when I have something to look forward to, be it a holiday, time with family or an exciting event.

Secondly, if I have to get something done by a certain time. For example, I started writing this article at 10:30 AM, fully aware that I have to be somewhere at 12:45 PM. Therefore, this article must be written during that period.

Similarly, if I’m on a train, I often try to get some work done by the end of the train journey.

Bank holidays offer both of these things. A long weekend is something to look forward to. Also, because everyone has their bank holiday at the same time, by and large, it should be easier for people to meet up.

Looking back on the lockdown, that was the worst thing about restrictions, being kept apart from loved ones for such a sustained period. Of course, as the lockdowns demonstrated, many jobs can’t cease and disappear and so individuals work tirelessly over that period.

Yet bank holidays demonstrate the value of providing time for others and moving away from an obsessive work culture. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, looking to work on projects over offering time to relax. Even workaholics like me should recognise that, if no other incentive exists, time away from work can increase productivity in the long run. The evidence is there to prove it.

For example, when a New Zealand company implemented a four-day week trial for eight weeks, they found that 78% of staff could effectively manage their home and work commitments, up from 54% before the trial.

Similarly, staff stress levels decreased by 7%, while a sense of empowerment at work increased by 5%. It demonstrates that, for real employer benefits, wellness retreats are surface-level reform. What helps is that material change.

The reform is not exclusively reserved for halfway across the world. Just this month, the Guardian reported that more than 3,000 workers at 60 companies in Britain will trial a four-day working week, including the Royal Society of Biology.

Aiming for higher productivity, the decreased working time will seek to ensure workers can operate well.

Rather, the cause of a four day week is something those who back worker’s rights should care about. It was a policy I was initially sceptical of, but now recognise it should be seen as compensation.

With worker productivity increasing by 5% annually from 1987 to 2015, worker compensation has increased by little more than 2% in that period.

Though this would be structurally tricky to implement, one only needs to look at history to see just how much effort was required to attain a five day week, with Saturdays off.

Given the existing consensus that exists towards celebrating bank holidays, it is time to extend that same favourability towards the four day week. Here’s to a permanent long weekend!

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