The new Scottish Labour Party leader, Kezia Dugdale, has proposed a radical plan to begin the “citizen-led” process of exploring the possibility of introducing a four-day working week. The proposal is for an independent commission to determine whether the move would be beneficial for productivity and economic growth in Scotland. While estimates vary on how many hours are worked per week on average in Scotland, it’s clear that there are many people who would welcome shorter working weeks without sacrificing their income. Let’s talk about the four-day work week in Scotland.
The four-day workweek is a work schedule which is four days long and typically includes a full day of work on the first day, a half day on the second day, a full day on the third day, and a half day on the fourth day. In total, employees work a total of 32 hours over the four days. For employers, with many potential responsibilities and staff who don’t have stable full-time employment, the time savings can make a noteworthy difference.
What about the UK?
The UK government’s official position is that “The potential impact of a reduced working week would be modest, and there would be little impact on business in the UK.” Considering the UK economy is still growing, and the effects will likely be along similar lines, it seems unlikely that the proposed change would cause much disruption or even a small decrease in output.
Proponents of a four-day workweek in Scotland argue that the extra time could lead to better efficiency in the workplace and that longer days could lead to better monitoring and management of the workforce.
The four-day workweek in Scotland could also lead to a shift in the way businesses offer their products and services to consumers. Introducing a four-day workweek means that companies would stop offering a one-day minimum or a two-day minimum (much like many hotels advertise a two-night minimum stay and require guests to book in advance).
The Problem with the Four-Day Work Week in Scotland
A shortening of workweek days means obviously fewer hours at work, which impacts the number of hours one works per week. But, shorter days also allow for greater personal freedom, meaning that people will potentially choose to do different things during their time off. If an employee wants to travel, they may work some hours instead of others. Some may choose to utilize the time to help with stress relief, self-improvement, or other personal goals. The longer the workweek, the greater the opportunity for these various objectives to be achieved without the employee having to sacrifice income.
The payoffs to everyone are substantial. However, the sad reality is that not everyone will be able to claim the two weeks per year that would normally be required to implement such a plan. It’s not easy to deal with the types of people (like individuals or corporate units) who have a significant amount invested in the company and would see the benefits of a shorter workweek go by the wayside.
Are there examples of the four-day work week in practice today?
There are companies in Sweden and Norway that have adopted it, and many employees there don’t even use all of their vacation time each year. In Sweden, the company Brath and Co. introduced a six hour workday and they’re seeing great results: they’re happier and more productive and their turnover rate is half of their industry average.
The four-day workweek is a hot topic that’s being talked about more and more. One of the first companies to actually implement this practice is New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian, which switched to a 28-hour workweek last year. The results have been very positive. Founder and CEO Mark Stark told the New York Times, “We are better able to change. We are better able to change the culture of this company. Business is better at working with our new culture. And Terri has expressed to me that she does not miss the 8-hour days.” Given the negative impacts of many U.S. companies that shift workers to a 9-to-5, optimism around the potential of a shorter workweek should be considered.
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