With the Scottish government trialing a four-day work week, Basilia Weir examines how this will benefit students.
I really like this whole “I don’t dream of labour” movement going on right now. Not long into my time at university, I got into a tailspin about my future. It’s not that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life – it’s that I didn’t want to do anything. The prospect of spending the next 50 years working all day every day to afford the occasional Mediterranean cruise started making me sick. That’s when my concept of a “dream job” stopped focussing on passion and instead started centring on working hours. As someone who watched their parents work endless hours every week to provide for us, a 9-5 sounds like heaven to me. The only thing that could make that better? A four-day work week instead of the current five.
“As someone who watched their parents work endless hours every week to provide for us, a 9-5 sounds like heaven…”
Luckily for me, in September of this year the Scottish government announced the trial of a four-day work week. “But wouldn’t workers lose out on precious pay if we did that?” I hear you ask. Alas, the SNP plan on doing it without any loss to workers. There are various ways of doing this. You can condense the usual work week into four days, meaning you work a wee bit more Monday to Thursday in exchange for Fridays off. Alternatively, employers can choose not to condense the week but continue paying the same wage. “But then wouldn’t employers lose out on money and productivity?”
Studies suggest the opposite. A shorter work week has been proven to increase productivity. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. So, chances are you could get the same amount of work done in a 32 hour work week as you could in a 40 hour one. Chelsea Fagan, founder of The Financial Diet, found that reducing her media company to a 32-hour week exposed the number of “pointless meetings and redundant tasks” that they previously had, and improved productivity.
“…chances are you could get the same amount of work done in a 32 hour work week as you could in a 40 hour one…”
The productivity increase isn’t just owed to the reduction in wasted time; improved mental wellbeing has a lot to do with it. In 2019/20, the Labour Force Survey found that 17.9m working days in the UK were lost to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression. A reduced work week with a longer weekend, and therefore a healthier work/life balance, has the potential to seriously change this. Think of how much more you could get done at work if you were less stressed and better rested!
Thanks to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics and countries who already have a four-day work week, you don’t just have to imagine it. OECD countries that work less hours on average a week are more productive. According to TLDR News, the Netherlands has the shortest working week of all OECD countries, working an average of 10 hours less a week than Britain, and yet has a productivity value 25% higher than ours. Whilst there’s every possibility that this increase could be down to other factors, it seems there is a strong correlation between working less and producing more.
If workers are still receiving their full pay and all the work is still getting done, I can see very few cons to a four-day work week. There is a question of who feels the benefits, though. Bus drivers, retail workers, lorry drivers, waiters, the list goes on – people making minimum wage are still going to have to work upwards of 40 hours a week to make a living. So, alongside a four-day work week we need a liveable wage for all and perhaps even a universal basic income to ensure that blue collar workers can have a life and good mental health.
“…alongside a four-day work week we need a liveable wage for all and perhaps even a universal basic income…”
There’s a strong case to be made here that the University should switch to a four-day week, too. Though I think this would be good, I worry it would exacerbate a lot of existing problems on campus: lack of access to an oversubscribed, under-funded mental health service; advising offices that don’t have enough staff to deal with the volume of queries and claims; GTA’s who are paid on casual contracts despite being an indispensable part of student’s education at Glasgow University. At the very least, these need to be addressed alongside a shorter working week.
For me though, the University – and Scotland as a whole – moving to a four-day work week represents hope for my future. As an arts student with minimal contact hours and a part-time job, I wouldn’t feel that much direct benefit right now. But it would make me feel less dread about the life that awaits me when I graduate. Nothing thrills me more than the prospect of being able to make a comfortable living whilst having three days off a week. Seriously – I dream of a good kitchen island and a golden retriever named Douglas, and three days off in which to take said dog a walk and cook a big roast on said island. There should be so much more to life than work, and a four-day work week is a good start.