Bank holiday sparks calls to make every week a four-day week

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Unions are calling for a permanent four-day week after Brits enjoyed a sunny bank holiday. Photo: PA

Employers and the government are facing fresh calls to back a four-day week, giving workers a “fair share” of Britain’s prosperity through more time off.

Business leaders have repeatedly warned against forcing such proposals on firms, but some studies suggest shorter weeks can help reduce stress and even increase productivity.

“It’s the start of a four-day week. Let’s make that permanent,” wrote trade union body the TUC on Twitter as many Brits returned to work after a bank holiday weekend on Tuesday.

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has also shown interest in the idea, commissioning a review by the respected economist Robert Skidelsky. It was reportedly due in July, but has not yet been published as work is still underway.

More time for rest and ‘more productive’ workers

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, told Yahoo Finance UK that shorter hours would give workers more time to rest or have fun with family and friends.

The TUC said employers “control our every waking hour,” and that the long hours of the Victorian era had only fallen after campaigns for eight-hour days, two-day weekends and paid holidays.

O’Grady suggested four additional bank holidays would be a good start.

“As new technology changes our economy, the benefits should be shared by working people,” she said.

READ MORE: Experts tell Davos a three-day weekend is good for business

“But instead work is becoming more intense. Workers in Britain put in millions of hours of unpaid overtime every year but get fewer public holidays than their counterparts across Europe.

“Working people deserve their fair share, including in the form of shorter working hours.”

Several studies have suggested short working weeks do increase job satisfaction and improve work-life balance, and one trial even showed a 20% increase in productivity.

‘Not helpful’ to force a four-day week on firms

Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said a four-day week could work and even be “helpful” for some firms, such as small consultancies working on long-term projects with fixed deadlines.

He said many small companies were “leading the way” in supporting employees through flexible working and a living wage, but told Yahoo Finance UK the policy “won’t work for all.”

“If you’re in industries like fishing, logistics and construction where you simply have to spend extensive amounts of times in the field, it’s not a model that’s likely to fit. Then of course there will be employees who want to do overtime,” said Cherry.

He said reducing output to four days a week was “not going to solve the UK’s productivity issues.”

Firms say forcing a four-day week on them is 'not helpful.' Photo: PA

“Ensuring employees are happy and motivated at work is vital, but small firms must be given the space and freedom to work out how best to achieve this in their unique environments,” he added.

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), one of Britain’s leading business lobby groups, added: “At a time when flexible working is becoming more essential than ever, rigid approaches feel like a step in the wrong direction.

“Businesses are clear that politicians should work with them to avoid policies that work as a soundbite but not a solution.”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of a four-day week