Public Sector as Pioneer: shorter working weeks as the new gold standard

August 30 2020

At a glance:

  • A shorter working week in the public sector (with no loss in pay) is badly needed: burn out, work-related poor mental health and bad work-life balance plague public sector staff across organisations.


  • A 32-hour week in the public sector is not just desirable for worker wellbeing and for reducing the costs of burn out and presenteeism; a 32-hour week would also create hundreds of thousands of jobs and establish a new standard for all employment in the UK.


  • It would create between 300,000 and 500,000 new full-time equivalent jobs in the sector.


  • Public sector employment takes up a relatively high proportion of employment in Wales, the North of England and Scotland – entailing that a 32-hour working week would benefit regions that have felt the hardship of austerity most.


  • Such a policy is eminently affordable and achievable: on Autonomy’s conservative calculations a 32-hour week could cost around £9bn, but the true figure could be much lower at around £5.4bn.


  • The conservative £9bn figure is only 6% of the public sector employment salary bill and just over 1% of the total government spending budget.


  • In addition to the public sector pioneering through its own working practices, we outline how procurement strategies aimed at private sector partners can encourage broader change across the UK labour market.

Our interactive map shows those areas with the highest rates of public sector employment:

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Source: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (2019)


Phil Jones
Rob Calvert Jump
Lukas Kikuchi


Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said:


“The time has come for a four day working week and the public sector should act as the pioneer for it, both as employer and as procurer of services.


“To help tackle the unemployment crisis we are facing this winter, a four day week is the best option for sharing work more equally across the economy and creating much needed new jobs.


“The four day week makes so much sense as it would boost productivity, create new jobs and make us all much happier and healthier.”

This research was supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation London.