Encouraging a four day working week

Years ago, I thought the idea of a four-day working week was an unrealistic socialist policy, however over the past 18 months I’ve come around to the idea. After work, most people would like to relax (or canvass for the Liberal Democrats!), but many of us find that there is scarcely the time, especially those who commute and have dependents. After housework and life administration, there is sometimes little time to do anything else besides get ready for bed. 

I still study for professional qualifications and a day off work to study, rather than trying to only squeeze it in on the evenings and weekends, would be useful. I imagine many others who would like to retrain or continue with their studies whilst working feel the same way. 

We shouldn’t force companies to give people an extra day off per week, but we can encourage the option by introducing an Employer National Insurance (NI) tax break for companies offering an extra day off per week. At the moment, the Employer NI rate is 13.8% on the value of salaries and benefits above £166.01 per week. The offer would have to be made to all employees if the individual company wishes to take advantage of the scheme – this would prevent discrimination as there would be no tax break for the company for employees earning below £166.01 per week. Companies would not be forced to offer the extra day off per week, but if they do, it must be offered to all employees. 

To prevent companies seeing this as a salary cutting mechanism, they would also be unable to reduce salaries if the employee accepted the extra day off per week. Why would they offer such a day off, I hear you say? Well, the reduction in Employer NI would have to be sufficiently large to make it a decent incentive. It may also increase the productivity of the company, reduce days off due to illness and stress and it could also provide reputational benefits for the company. The government could “name and praise” rather than “name and shame”. It may also help the company attract top talent. 

Ideally, to make it work, individuals and companies would choose different days for the extra day off, rather than simply creating a three-day weekend. This would allow us to go to and call places like banks, post offices and other organisations when they are open, rather than trying to squeeze these activities into our lunch breaks or on Saturday mornings. 

We could offer the scheme on a trial basis, of perhaps five years, to see what the participation rate of the scheme is and if there have been any benefits in terms of productivity and mental health. I still believe that GDP growth is desirable, but as Jacinda Ardern and Jo Swinson have said, a country’s prosperity cannot be judged on economic growth figures alone. 

* Eddie Sammon is a member of the Lib Dems in France and a regular reader of and commenter on Liberal Democrat Voice.

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7 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Oct '19 - 6:20pm

    Hi William, this could be a way to boost productivity. It is also why I suggest doing it on a trial basis, to see the results. I don’t want a big industrial dispute between trade unions and employers to start, and union membership has dropped a lot anyway. I know the public sector isn’t ready for this idea, and I’m not sure if it could ever work in places like hospitals, but I think with some encouragement then more companies will try it, which will make it gradually seem more normal over time and lead to a slight change in culture.

  • My only comment is that that there seems to be a solution given without analysing the problem. There is huge evidence that many people feel themselves being bullied at work. Many people are forced to have more than one job and still find it difficult to get by.
    Surely we need to ask aime questions like what changes do we have to make to ensure that we have a sustainable planet. At a time when people are accepting that we cannot go on using the planet’s resources at an increasing rate, we need to test every decision against whether it is sustainable or not.
    I welcome this suggestion, and hope that we can find a means in the party of discussing this and other ideas in a constructive way.
    In fact this is our greatest challenge. How do we explore new ideas or are we destined to simply continue on the path of the destruction of our ecosystems?

  • Richard MacKinnon 12th Oct '19 - 12:23pm

    What has it to do with government how many hours I choose to work?

  • @Tom Harney. Have to admit i didn’t immediately see this issue as an environmental one, but I guess if we only have to turn up at the office 4 days a week that has to cut the number of carbon emitting journeys. Not fair to say that Ed has failed to analyse the problem. He makes clear reference to the lack of time, of work/life balance, that many workers feel and also of the impact on mental health.
    We have a problem with “presenteeism” in the UK, a culture which equates long hours with productivity and commitment. Workers in Germany and France spend significantly fewer hours at work than we do but are more productive. Nothing, in theory, prevents us moving towards a better work/life balance except a certain puritanism and the innate conservatism of many in the business community, a conservatism that may need a bit of a legislative nudge to overcome.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Oct '19 - 9:49am

    Thanks Chris. I hadn’t thought of this is a way to help the environment, but I can see how it could. I was mainly thinking of those who have children, study or even care duties towards older relatives.

  • David Evershed 13th Oct '19 - 5:45pm

    The country’s biggest employer, the NHS, would face severe difficulties moving to a four day week when it currently finds it difficult to man A&E on any day of the week.

    Children’s education would also suffer from a four day week – teachers and children already get very long holidays.

    Not sure people would be keen on returning to a four day week for electricity supply – it didn’t go down well last time under Edward Heath.

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