Would a four-day working week improve our wellbeing?
With Scotland trialling a four-day working week, it’s important to consider the long-term benefits for those already struggling.
After trials in countries such as Iceland and New Zealand, Scotland is going to follow their lead in trialling a four-day working week.
The news came following reports suggesting 80% of people surveyed would prefer to work shorter hours, with the trials paying workers the same amount for these reduced hours. Now the question of whether this country should shorten the working week is a common topic in the news.
Previous trials suggest that the productivity of employed people either stays the same or improves under a four-day working week. This raises questions about how implementing a shorter working week can improve the social conditions of minority groups, such as disabled people or BAME groups.
The most obvious benefit from the four-day working week is flexibility. With increased free time, employees can get a better work-life balance. With an improved work-life balance, people can avoid burnout for a longer time, improving their mental health in the long run.
For disabled people with mental health conditions, avoiding burnout is key for wellbeing. Having flexibility in working hours furthers mental wellbeing, as it allows for disabled people to work around their conditions. This is ideal, as it means disabled people are not forced to work during flare-ups in their health or unable to see a GP due to their working hours.
Regardless of ability, the wellbeing of families also benefits from a shorter working week. For families with uneven emotional labour, a shorter week gives an opportunity for emotional labour within households to become even. Adults will be able to manage households better and therefore spend more quality time with family, focusing on their emotional health. For single parents, having a shorter working week allows for reduced expenses on after-school clubs, babysitters, and less stress in working long hours.
These are not the only groups that can benefit. Zero-hour contracts can be eradicated with a four-day working week, with increased flexibility showing that flexible working hours are possible without giving employers total control.
Currently, one in six zero-hour-contract employees are BAME, with women of colour the most likely to be working a zero-hour contract. By setting up structures that give employees more control over their schedules, BAME workers are more likely to benefit. In turn, this allows for greater social mobility and wellbeing within BAME communities.
But, how likely is this four-day working week? There is no obligation for companies to keep the same pay despite working fewer hours, and employers could potentially reduce pay in line with these reduced hours.
There is also a long-standing belief within Britain that working more hours is a source of pride. Coming home late in the day, without the opportunity to spend time with family or engage in hobbies, is often considering ‘worth’ the pay at the end of each month.
However, there has been a boom in working from home in the last 18 months, credited to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns. People who would originally have spent hours commuting now have the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world, without the stress of commuting or being bound to one geographical location.
The adaptations and flexibility that employers have shown have been evidence that changes like a four-day working week are possible.
With 85% of disabled people living in poverty, having flexible hours and stable pay is imperative. Having flexible hours, a shorter working week, and more time at home has allowed for disabled employees to take fewer sick days, leading to a higher productivity. For BAME disabled employees, who already suffer from structural racism and are likelier to have care responsibilities within intergenerational households, increased work flexibility could go a considerable way to eliminating the intersectional disadvantages from which they suffer.
It is interesting to note, however, the emphasis on productivity. Considering the events of the COVID-19 pandemic and the wide-scale grief occurring as a result, one would consider whether it is cruel to even suggest an immediate return to 5-day office work.
For BAME and disabled people, who are more likely to be in insecure working conditions, surely it is more important to establish stable, sustainable working environments rather than focus on the ‘British’ attitudes towards productivity?
With the economy recovering from the current pandemic, now is a good time as any to begin considering more permanent adaptations to working life. Otherwise, it may be years before any changes can take place.
With the benefits of working from home still lingering in people’s minds, it seems imperative to implement fewer working hours for everyone, regardless of initial difficulties. In doing so, everybody’s health benefits. It’s a win-win.
JAN Trust’s holistic approach to communities allows for us to assist younger people, helping them to become more active members of their community and teaching them to take control over their futures and potential careers. One of our projects includes working closely with schools to touch upon sensitive topics.