I know a lot has been written about the possibility of a 4-day week and how it will mean a better work life balance for people, but do we really, honestly, believe that as a national workforce we will achieve the same levels of productivity as we do now with 5 days?
Some years ago, my wife changed her working arrangement to a 4-day week after the birth of our first child. Without question, she was just as productive in her reduced week. She worked in a busy sales environment and so her productivity was directly measurable in sales output, and she was a top performer, competing against 30+ colleagues who worked 5 days a week. There is no doubt that she was motivated to get as much done in 4 days as she had in 5, and this enabled her to spend more time with our infant child. She was more focussed and worked harder in the hours that she had.
And this is the sort of example and justification that is frequently put forward to argue the case for a 4 day week.
Now, there are many others who I believe would also belong in this category. Probably thousands. But the UK workforce is roughly 30 million, and that is a big number. The idea that we can move to a 4-day week across this number of people without a drop in productivity is stretching belief, to say the least. A lot of people work in an office environment where, thanks to technology and the nature of their job, I am sure that they can balance a flexible working arrangement and it would probably work for them as it did for my wife. But there are many more people who do not.
What about people working in manufacturing? If we move to a 4 day week but do not reduce wages, and we fail to get the same levels of productivity, then those businesses will have to employ extra staff to cover those days lost. This will increase costs, and who will bear these costs ultimately? The consumer. The same applies to farming, retail, fishing, hospitality, technology – who will actually pay the extra costs that will arise with the employment of extra staff? We will. In the supermarkets, clothes shops, restaurants, on our computers, cloud services, mobile charges and more. It will ripple through the entire economy. How happy will everyone be with a 4 day week when the cost of living goes noticeably up and standard of living therefore goes down?
And how will this affect taxes? There are some parts of the work force that we cannot do without. Think bin men, police force, NHS staff, road maintenance etc to name just a few. In these sorts of vocations, you simply cannot achieve the same in 4 days that you can in 5 days.If we have more people working and the overall public sector wage bill increases, this is paid for by our taxes. Our taxes will go up.
Now, one could argue that it would reduce unemployment, as more people would be called upon to work. Yes, we would all feel a bit poorer, but we would have more time with our family, and more people who currently don’t work could be lifted out of unemployment, and that is better for us as a nation. Depending on where you sit politically that is a fair argument.
But all I am saying is that moving to a 4-day week is not a free lunch, where we just have an extra day off and life otherwise remains unaffected.
We should think long and hard before we decide if that is really the way we wish to go.