When it comes to the working week, less is more - RSA Comment - RSA

When it comes to the working week, less is more


  • Picture of Joe Ryle
    Joe Ryle
    4 Day Week Campaign, Director
  • Economy, Employment & Design
  • Behaviour change
  • Fellowship

Studies and trials show a four-day week is good for business, productivity, and employees. Joe Ryle explains how less work works.

There is ample evidence proving a four-day week, with no loss of pay, would drastically change our economy and society for the better.

Numerous studies and trials have shown that the four-day week is good for business and productivity, but its impact goes far beyond the workplace.

The way we currently work is outdated and no longer fits the 21st century. We’re long overdue an update – especially if we care about gender equality, the environment and democracy.

The standard nine-to-five, five-day working week has largely remained unchanged since the days of the male ‘breadwinner’ factory worker of the early 20th century. In those days, the norm was for families to be dependent on wives and mothers taking up unpaid domestic labour to ensure men were able to work long, unsociable hours to provide financially.

After the second world war, women were bought into the labour force to replace men who were away at the front. Soon came increasing demands for civil rights and financial independence for women, and the world of work began to change. More and more women began to take up paid employment - in the UK, labour market participation for women grew from 29 percent in 1989 to 44 percent in 2017.

Although we’ve seen a drastic transition in how we work, the type of work we do, and who participates in the labour market, the 40-hour work week remains mostly unchanged. Similarly, gender norms around work have struggled to shift. Women are still unequally responsible for caring responsibilities and work longer hours if paid and unpaid labour are combined. Too often, this results in women taking up part-time, insecure, and precarious employment to juggle the burden of paid employment and domestic labour.

Four-day week brings equality

Moving everyone to a four-day week with no loss of pay would mean that as both men and women would be working less, there would be a more equal share of paid and unpaid work between men and women, such as childcare, housework and caring responsibilities. This doesn’t only benefit women but has a positive impact on men and families in general. If both men and women are working less, men will have the opportunity to build stronger bonds with their children and to become more involved fathers – something that a lot of men regret missing out on.

There are clear financial benefits to a four-day week too. Increased leisure time means that local economies can flourish because of greater demand in the tourism and hospitality industries. Furthermore, a four-day week has been shown to result in increased employee satisfaction and wellbeing, meaning fewer resources and less money is lost on job recruitment, retention and sick days.

Additionally, a four-day week could alleviate much of the pressure working parents face financially, stopping some families from falling into debt during the cost of living crisis we are faced with. Research by the think tank Autonomy, entitled The shorter working week: a radical and pragmatic proposal has shown on average, working families and caregivers, who are financially responsible for a child under two years old, could save at least £1,440 in childcare across a year if they worked a day less a week.

Cut to working hours cuts our carbon footprint 

A shorter working week is also good for the environment. Shifting to a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by up to 127 million tonnes per year - according to a study by campaign group Platform London. This represents a reduction of 21.3 per cent, more than the entire carbon footprint of Switzerland and equivalent to taking 27 million cars off the road (effectively the entire UK private car fleet). And in terms of democracy, an extra day off would give people the opportunity to be more engaged citizens and to have more time to fight for the future that they want.

Although change can be difficult and can take a long time, the four-day week is perfectly reasonable and attainable, as hundreds of UK companies have already shown.

It’s time to create a new model of work that’s fit for the 21st century. The four-day week with no loss of pay is a win-win for everyone and we need to make sure that those in positions of power are aware of how it can transform the world of work for the better. 

Joe Ryle is the director of the 4 Day Week Campaign and an RSA Fellow… his working days are Monday to Thursday.

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Become an RSA Fellow

The RSA Fellowship is a unique global network of changemakers enabling people, places and the planet to flourish. We invite you to be part of this change.

Related articles

  • Preparing for the Future of Reward

    Fellowship news

    The world of work is changing fast. We only need to look back five years to realise how fast the expectations, locations, needs and management of the workforce is being transformed. What will 2050 look like?

  • Flexible work in the era of Covid-19


    Lynn Houmdi FRSA

    Lynn Houmdi FRSA on how her social enterprise Making Work Work is helping change workplace culture and support women.

  • Is competition killing us?


    Competition laws are failing us on a whole host of issues vital to the public interest. But campaigning lawyer Michelle Meagher has a bold new agenda for reform.