Shorter Working Week Models

National Policymakers, Trade Unions, Employees, Individuals

Moving towards shorter hours of paid work offers a new route out of the multiple crises we face today. A new shorter working week could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, underemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.

Shorter working hours would mean people would pay less tax as a proportion of their salary. It also would allow people to spend more time in their communities, and has the potential to bring about many benefits to Galway’s society related to long-term well-being, productivity and wealth. The two models described here propose different approaches.

21 Hour Working Week:
This is a proposal put forward by the New Economics Foundation in the UK to change what is considered a ‘normal’ working week – down from 40 hours or more, to 21 hours.

The 4-Day Working Week:
This idea entails replacing a conventional 5-day work/school/college week with a 4-day work/school/college week plus a 1-day local community day. This would result in many people working or studying for 4 days per week, with one day taken off for community and family activities. This would, for example, enable children and adults to participate in local food growing and other community-based and extended classroom activities.

Statistical evidence provides support to show that a shorter working week can result in greater productivity and higher wealth. Both Germany and France have seen productivity increases since 1980, which correlates with a drop of around 20 per cent in working hours. Low-working-hours Denmark and Norway are significantly wealthier in per capita GDP terms than high-hours United States. More than half of the Dutch working population works part time.

Having shorter working weeks would immediately reduce unemployment rates and lower social welfare costs for the taxpayer, as job sharing would become a much more prominent employment model. There would be less unemployment if, say, two people worked 30 hours a week instead of just one person working 60 hours a week.

A shorter working week would mean less time and money spent on commuting, and also a reduction in traffic congestion and pollution. Furthermore, it could be beneficial to parents who could spend more time with their children and save money on childcare.

In terms of well-being and the quality of social relations, spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society. Crucially, it could also help erode the consumerist ethic as people find greater satisfaction in engaging with their families and communities.

Amongst the other possible advantages are:
– More women entering the workforce
– Helping long-term unemployed return to the labour force
– Promoting flexible arrangements to suit employees, such as job sharing, extended care leave and sabbaticals
– An increased minimum wage
– A radical restructuring of state benefits
– Stronger measures enforcing equal pay and opportunity (improving gender relations and the quality of family life)
– Allow people have time to exercise and stay physically fit
‘21 Hours’ (Report) – The New Economics Foundation, London, UK
‘Time on Our Side’ (Book) – The New Economics Foundation, London, UK