Jobs and the Future of Work

A four-day working week on full pay? Technological advances could make it possible

A business man rides an escalator in the financial district of Pudong in Shanghai September 21, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song (CHINA - Tags: CITYSPACE SOCIETY)

The productivity gains ushered in by new tech should be shared among all workers, not just bosses. Image: REUTERS/Aly Song

Alex Gray
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Future of Work

People should work less, and get paid the same. That’s the call from one of the United Kingdom’s largest trade unions.

The TUC has used its 2018 annual conference to publicize its new report, which calls on the UK government to rethink working practices in light of the fundamental changes that are occuring in the workplace.

Image: TUC

Employers might shrink in horror at the idea of paying people the same for working fewer hours, but actually there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this makes us more – not less – productive.

As new technology permeates the workplace and increases efficiency, we might even see four-day weeks become the norm.

Why less is more

  GDP gains as a result of technology for each country in the UK
Image: PwC

The TUC sees technological innovation as the key to a new era of shorter working weeks.

Professional services firm PwC estimates that AI could add over £200 billion ($260 billion) to the UK’s economy by 2030. That’s an uptick of over 10%.

The point that the TUC is making is that the productivity gains brought about by new technology should be shared among all workers, not just company bosses.

They argue that new technology like AI, automation and robotics could pave the way for better working conditions, which include higher pay and reduced workloads.

The TUC says that eight in 10 workers (81%) want to reduce working time in the future, and half would take it in the form of an extra day off.

Workers in the UK put in some of the longest hours in Europe.

 Full-time workers in the UK do some of the longest hours in Europe.
Image: TUC

Happier workers are more productive

Businesses concerned about the financial impact of fewer hours on their bottom line can take heart from research that suggests that working less does not negatively impact productivity.

One study found that productivity actually drops dramatically with longer hours. In one case, those who toiled away for an extra 14 hours produced nothing more in that time.

One company in New Zealand recently completed an eight week trial of a four-day working week. They gave their 200 or so employees an extra day off every week, while all pay and employment conditions remained unchanged.

Despite the reduced hours, workers were 20% more productive and much happier. The company declared the experiment an "unmitigated success".

In some cases, governments have had to step in to force people not to work such long hours, in order to protect their health and well-being.

In 2016, French workers were given the right not to have to answer work emails after 6pm. The “right to disconnect”, a notion introduced by the country’s labour minister, worried about the impact on the nation’s health of working outside office hours, is now enshrined in law.

Have you read?

In South Korea, the government lowered the maximum working week from 68 to 40 hours, plus another 12 hours of overtime, in a bid to promote a greater work-life balance.

"It will be an important opportunity to move away from a society of overwork and move toward a society of spending time with families," President Moon Jae-in said.

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