November 2019

In the lead up to this election, at their conference in September, the Labour Party announced a commitment to a 32-hour working week (on average) across the UK economy, over a ten year period. This follows Autonomy’s report from February that proposed the same, and also a report commissioned by Labour that agreed that working time reductions should occur for a number of reasons. Alongside Labour, the Green Party have consistently included a reduced working week as part of their policy proposals.

 

In the face of expected resistance from certain areas of the news media, and in order to shore up the case for a shorter working week, here we summarise some of the most salient points which should be included in the debate.

Economically plausible

The UK economy can handle, and even thrive with, 32-hour working week. This is so for a number of reasons:

 

  • International examples of nations with shorter working weeks, like Germany and Denmark, shows us that we can be more productive and work less.
  • UK studies have shown that many companies running 32-hour weeks gain in per-hour productivity, remain competitive and have healthier working cultures.
  • Reducing working weeks will reduce costs for employers and our public health services, as the evidence shows that shorter working hours means better in-work performance and fewer sick absences across the economy.
  • The reduction of time on the job will be partially offset through increased per-hour productivity and reduced sickness costs.
  • Combined with investment and an industrial strategy, 32-hour weeks would be coupled with a more automated and efficient economy overall.

 

But reducing working time is not simply about short-term economic success. It is about sharing out the gains of economic activity more evenly in the form of time, and it is about reducing our carbon footprint.

Longer working hours do not necessarily mean a successful economy

Longer working hours do not mean a successful economy:

  • Greek workers work the longest hours in Europe and the Greek economy is struggling.
  • German and Danish workers work some of the shortest hours and have high-performing economies.
Dataset: OECD Stat Annual Hours Per Capita. International Comparison. Available at: http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=PDB_LV.

Employers see the benefits of a four-day week

A number of studies have shown that per-hour productivity has been shown to improve within firms operating four-day weeks. One study, from Henley Business School, surveyed 500 firms and over 2000 employees.

 

They found that almost £92 billion of savings (around 2% of total turnover) are being made each year across four-day week firms. 64% of employers who are offering a four-day week say there has been an improvement in productivity and 63% of employers saw an improvement in the quality of work being produced. This is due to greater staff productivity on the job, improved staff happiness, fewer sick days and recruiting and retaining talent.

 

For the Henley Business School paper, see here: https://www.henley.ac.uk/news/2019/four-day-week-pays-off-for-uk-business

64% of employers who are already offering a four-day week say there has been an improvement in productivity.

63% of employers saw an improvement in the quality of work being produced.

Recently, Microsoft announced that it is giving it’s 2300 person workforce in its Japan offices a four-day work week.

 

According to the company, the shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%.

 

In addition to the increased productivity, employees took 25% less time off during the trial and electricity use was down 23% in the office with the additional day off per week. The vast majority of employees – 92% – said they liked the shorter week.

Overwork costs the UK economy billions every year

Poor mental health at work costs employers £33bn - £42bn every year.

Poor mental health at work is costing both the public and private sector billions each year. This is predominantly due to presenteeism and absenteeism.

 

A Deloitte study of the costs of poor mental health at work found that poor mental health costs employers £33bn – £42bn every year.

 

The Health and Safety Executive has found that the greatest cause of sick absences is work-related stress and workload pressure (54%). By reducing sickness and mental health issues at work, reduced working time will save businesses money

 

See here for this data: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

See Deloitte’s paper here: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-mental-health-employers-monitor-deloitte-oct-2017.pdf.

The greatest cause of sick absences is work-related stress (54%)

The greatest cause of work-related stress, anxiety and/or depression is workload (44% of all instances)

Therefore, we can expect the alleged ‘costs’ of implementing a 32-hour week to be offset drastically by the improvement in staff wellbeing, fewer sick absences, slower staff turnover and less presenteeism.

Public sector staff will benefit most from a 32-hour week and arguably need it most

doctors1

Poor mental health at work costs the public sector between £8.4bn and £10.2bn a year

Healthcare. Research from the University of Leeds found that the proportion of healthcare staff feeling unwell due to work-related stress has risen from 28% in 2008 to 37% in 2016, and double the number of NHS staff left due to poor work-life balance in 2015 compared with 2011 (see Figure 1). Deloitte estimates that poor mental health in the public sector costs £1,794 – £2,174 per annum per employee.

 

 

University of Leeds paper can be found here: Johnson, J., Hall, L. H., Berzins, K., Baker, J., Melling, K., & Thompson, C. (2017), ‘Mental healthcare staff well‐being and burnout: A narrative review of trends, causes, implications, and recommendations for future interventions’. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing,(1):20-32.  http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/125589/3/VERSION%20FOR%20ARCHIVING.pdf

See Deloitte’s paper here: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/public-sector/deloitte-uk-mental-health-employers-monitor-deloitte-oct-2017.pdf.

Figure 1: (a) Percentage of staff reporting having felt unwell due to work-related stress on the NHS staff survey and (b) number of staff citing poor work–life balance as their reason for leaving their NHS post (Source: : Johnson, J., Hall, L. H., Berzins, K., Baker, J., Melling, K., & Thompson, C. (2017), ‘Mental healthcare staff well‐being and burnout: A narrative review of trends, causes, implications, and recommendations for future interventions’. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing,(1):20-32. http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/125589/3/VERSION%20FOR%20ARCHIVING.pdf

Double the number of NHS staff left due to poor work-life balance in 2015 compared with 2011.

Reducing the working week will also help prevent medical mistakes, which become much more likely when practitioners are fatigued and overworked. Several studies point out that overwork can lead to serious accidents or diagnostic errors. Hospital workers can make up to five times as many diagnostic errors when working excessively long weeks.

 

For this research see:

Sparks, Kate et al. (2011), ‘The Effects of Hours of Work on Health: A Meta- Analytic Review’, in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 391-408.

Landrigan, C. et al., (2004), ‘Effect of Reducing Interns’ Work Hours on Serious Medical Errors in Intensive Care Units.’ The New England Journal of Medicine.

The best educational systems in the world have some of the shortest hours for teachers.

Education. The best educational systems in the world have some of the shortest hours for teachers. Research from the Nuffield Foundation found that on average UK teachers work approximately 49 hours per week, including evening and weekend work. Equivalent teachers in Finland, for example, work approximately 34 hours p/w on average. A 32-hour school week in schools could be spread across five days, with later starts or earlier finishes (e.g. 9:00 – 15:30), or could be in the form of an 8-hour, four-day week with Friday as a nationwide ‘off day’ for school children.

 

Research here: https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/quarter-teachers-england-report-60-hour-working-week

Popular with the public and trade union members

YouGov surveys also found that there is large UK public support for a four-day week:

 

63% of the public support the introduction of a four-day week    

 

71% think it will make people happier

 

(Source: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/articles-reports/2019/03/15/eurotrack-europeans-support-introducing-four-day-w)

63% of the public support the introduction of a four-day week

71% think it will make people happier

In its survey of thousands of trade union members, the Trades Union Congress found a clear consensus that a four-day week is preferable.

Responses to the question: Imagine a future where using machines and computer programs at work made Britain much more productive and wealthy, and we could fulfil all our needs with less work. If it was up to you to decide how long the maximum working week should be for everyone, what would you choose? Source: TUC. Available here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/future-works-working-people

76% of Brits want a 4-day work week or less – and that’s assuming that they have an enjoyable job.

Source: YouGov. https://yougov.co.uk/opi/surveys/results?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=daily_questions&utm_campaign=question_2#/survey/b0b89ed5-9340-11e9-9646-9fb0446daa0c/question/2b0d747c-9341-11e9-ad4f-7f98da3448af/toplines

76% of Brits want a 4-day work week or less - and that's even assuming that they enjoyed their job.

Ecologically necessary

The impact of a shorter working week upon our ecological footprint could be huge, and therefore should be part of any green economic agenda.

Various studies show a strong correlation between higher carbon emissions and longer working hours. This is due to the link between longer hours and more commuting, and longer hours and carbon-intensive consumption that come with a work-dominated lifestyle, e.g. ready meals and water bottles.

 

Jonas Nässén and Jörgen Larsson (2015) have found that a 1 percent decrease in working hours could be followed by a 0.8 percent decrease in emissions. Assuming this correlation, a reduction of working time of 24.7 percent (a move from the 42.5 hour average working week to the 32 hour week) would result in an accompanying reduction of 19.8 percent in greenhouse gas emissions.

 

A similar conclusion was reached by a team around Kyle Knight. They found that a reduction in work hours by 25 percent could lead to a reduction in Ecological Footprint by 30.2 percent (Knight et al., 2012).

 

Sources:

Fremstad, A., Paul, M. & Underwood, A. (2019) ‘Work Hours and CO2 Emissions: Evidence from U.S. Households’, Review of Political Economy, 31:1, 42-59.

Knight, K.; Rosa, E.A.; Schor, J.B. (2012). ‘Reducing Growth to Achieve Environmental Sustainability: The Role of Work Hours’; Political Economy Research Institute Working Paper Series, Number 304; University of Massachusetts: Amherst, MA, USA)

Nässén, J., Larsson, J., (2015) ‘Would shorter working time reduce greenhouse gas emissions? An analysis of time use and consumption in Swedish households’, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 2015, vol. 33, pp. 726–745

Moving to a 32-hour working week could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 19.76%