The shorter working week: a radical and pragmatic proposal

At a glance:

  • We note the worrying trends of job polarisation, the explosion of precarious forms of work, gendered inequalities, stagnating productivity growth, the threat (and promise) of automation and the substantial inequality that exists in our society.

 

  • Throughout the report, we make the case that the shorter working week is a powerful and practical response to some of these trends. Importantly, it should be understood that the transition towards a shorter working week is possible now and is not an abstract utopia. 

 

  • We show that there is no positive correlation between productivity and the amount of hours worked per day: working to the bone does not make ‘business sense’. 

 

  • There are strong indications that reducing the working week can help reduce air pollution and our overall carbon footprint.

 

  • We consider research concerning the importance of non-work time for our mental and physical health and for our sense of wellbeing in general. 

 

  • Waged work and unwaged work – such as that which is carried out in the home – should be considered as two sides of one ensemble. 

 

  • We make the case that productivity should not be the burden of workers alone. 

 

  • Sector-wide trade union coverage is an appropriate component of the decision-making around automation. 

 

  • We consider various case studies where a shorter working week was implemented with varying degrees of success.

 

  • We argue that ultimately, a more universal approach to working time reduction is the best way to prevent a ‘new dualism’ between those who can afford free time and those who cannot.
Click here to read the full report

Praise for this report:

“This is a vital contribution to the growing debate around free time and reducing the working week.

With millions saying they would like to work shorter hours, and millions of others without a job or wanting more hours, it’s essential that we consider how we address the problems in the labour market as well as preparing for the future challenges of automation.”

John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor

 

“This report is part of an important and growing body of research that
is steadfastly putting paid to the idea that the length of the working
week is set in stone. It’s increasingly clear it is not. In fact, as this
report demonstrates, working less may actually be the key to better
distributed, sustainable economic prosperity. Whether the 4th industrial
revolution and its implications for the future of labour happen as
many predict or not, the issue of catastrophic climate and ecosystem
breakdown is real and upon us now. The science tells we have around
a decade to take radical action. Fail to do so and the implications for
global civilisation are grim. Working fewer hours, reducing consumption
for its own sake, expanding our free time, improving ourselves and
moving towards a more post-material society maybe all that stands
between a prosperous future and a dark, dystopian one.”

Clive Lewis MP, for Norwich South

 

“This report clearly puts forward the case for a shorter working week as
a realistic ambition, and the critical role of trade unions in helping to
achieve it. From the eight-hour day to guaranteed bank holidays, the
trade union movement has always stood up for working people’s right
to take time off. This report will help us to keep winning for workers in
the 21st century.”

Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics
at the TUC (Trades Union Congress)

 

“Workers in the UK have never been under more pressure to work harder and faster, for longer hours and for less. As this report underlines, with growing levels of workplace stress and a huge increase in mental health issues, this simply isn’t a sustainable path and we need a radical change in direction. We have to get away from a low-investment, low-pay, low-productivity economy and a shorter working week should be at the heart of the fight for change. This is not a distant prospect – the Communication Workers Union has agreed a shorter working week in Royal Mail, one of the biggest employers in the country, which aims to take three hours off the working week thousands of postmen and women by the end of 2020. There are huge benefits from reducing working time for workers, employers and the country as a whole and the government should be driving this agenda forward now.”

Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Communication Workers’
Union (CWU)

 

“More and more companies are implemented a shorter working week
for the exact reasons this report outlines. Not only will help productivity,
it could also help tackle the twin crises of air pollution and climate
change (as the report says). If we’re to meet the challenges of the 21st
and create the future we need, want and deserve – policy makers must
embrace this new way of thinking. The time has come for the shorter
working week.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of Green Party

 

“The changing nature of work and increased automation poses big
challenges but also huge possibilities for better ways of organising
our economy. Any programme to achieving a radically fairer society
must include a fundamental rethink of our relationship with work. This
outstanding report is an essential contribution to that conversation.”

Dan Carden MP, for Liverpool Walton

 

“Increasing social inequality and precarity, gender inequality, the
climate crisis and the finite availability of natural resources call for a
radical shift away from the paradigm of expansive production. One
political approach is the radical reduction of wage labour while at the
same improving social security and providing enough for all. On this
path towards socio-ecological transformation, the reduction of weekly
working hours together with other forms of reducing wage labour and
increasing individual time sovereignty is an important step. For this
and for the necessary redistribution of wealth from top to bottom, the
progress in production achieved through automation and digitization
could be used as a lever. The program of “The Shorter Working Week“
in the UK is indeed a radical proposal and it is necessary. The special
focus on the question of gender equality and the double burden of
women is one of its key points. Shorter work hours are not only healthier
for everyone, they also allow for a fair distribution of unpaid work
between men and women.”

Katja Kipping, co-leader of the Left Party (Die Linke) in
Germany

 

“This excellent report sets the stage for a much needed change in our understanding of work and its role on modern societies. As policy-makers, we’ve been very interested in outlining a new progressive framework for employment policies, one that prioritizes above all the well-being of people and offers a vision for an engaging future. In this sense, we have closely followed Autonomy’s work, and we are deeply convinced that shortening the working week is a desirable, practical and necessary first step. In the Valencian Country, we are strongly committed to fostering a public debate about the future of work, and this report inspires us and invites us to go further.”

Enric Nomdedéu, Vice-Minister of Employment (Compromís,
Valencian Community)

 

“Working time is set to be the battleground of our generation – and
this report from Autonomy and the 4 Day Week Campaign is an
important and timely resource for the growing movement making a
better work/life balance a reality for people across the country. At the
New Economics Foundation we have long called for a shorter working
week to tackle many of the societal problems we face – from gender
inequality to overwork and stress. Today we recognise it as an attractive
strategy for industries in transition, whether due to technological
change, declining high-carbon industries or changes in international
markets. The authors are right to highlight the role for unions, who
have so far been leading the way to ensure that reduced working hours
reach and benefit everyone and not just those who can currently afford
it. We are pleased to be part of this broad alliance building a new
consensus that more free time is an ambition that can and should be
baked into the rules of our economy.”

Alice Martin, Head of Work and Pay, New Economics
Foundation.

 

“This report is an important intervention into a debate that is long
overdue. The confluence of high inequality and long working hours is a
bad bargain that should be rejected. A shorter workweek is a multiple
dividend policy. At a time when wealthy countries must achieve rapid
reductions in carbon emissions, there is no better way to supplement
energy policy with a new approach to worktime. Reduced hours are
highly correlated with lower emissions, and they also yield improvements
in worker well-being, gender equity, and productivity. And a four-day
workweek has long been the preferred way to reduce hours. Here’s
hoping this excellent report will help to reverse recent increases in UK
hours, and get the country back on the pathway to shorter worktime.”

Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology at the University of Boston
and author of The Overworked American (1992)

 

“This is a path-breaking report on one of the most promising ideas of
our time”

Rutger Bregman, historian and author of Utopia for Realists
(2016)

 

“In the early 1900s, 60-hour work weeks were common and a one-day weekend was standard across the industrialised world. Yet over the course of the first few decades of the century, working class movements struggled and won major reductions in the working week – gaining newfound freedom and liberating workers’ time for individual and collective endeavours. By the 1930s, the speed of this reduction was such that when John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour work week by 2030, he was simply expressing a widespread belief. Yet these plans were forgotten in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, and the fight for a shorter working week was side-lined in favour of less radical struggles. Today, in the face of rising automation, job polarisation, and catastrophic climate change, the fight for a shorter working week must once again become a core demand of the working class. In this respect, the present report is a landmark text, laying out the necessity and desirability of moving to a shorter working week, and doing the hard work of charting the policy paths that governments should take to support and facilitate this movement. It is essential reading for any policymakers looking to confront the scale of today’s challenges.”

Nick Srnicek, Lecturer in Digital Economy at King’s College, London, author of Platform Capitalism (2016) and advisory board member of Autonomy

Autonomy produced this report in collaboration with members of the 4 Day Week Campaign.