Ahead of the May Senedd elections, the Wales Future Generations Commissioner published its manifesto which included exploring the opportunities for a shorter working week. The proposal has been vaguely discussed for a few years, but how realistic is changing our working hours and could it benefit rural Wales?
During the pandemic, the culture and expectations of overtime and being contactable 24/7 has been highlighted and shows how damaging work overload can have on someone’s mental health. A four-day week will ensure workers will have time away from the office and is currently being trialled in Spain and Finland in order to increase wellbeing and productivity.
With an extra day off work, employers and government could encourage workers to volunteer and add value to their communities, which in the end would create a thriving rural society with strong community values. Imagine – whole communities having the time to get involved in preparing community events or developing an exciting local social enterprise – it could transform rural areas.
However, these volunteering hours could vary from helping in the local social care sector to workers investing time in developing their own business. By pursuing new business ideas, it would encourage entrepreneurship in rural areas and strengthen the local economy.
The last time there was a major cut in working hours was during the great depression in 1930s. Due to the Covid outbreak, we are in a similar economic crisis, and reducing work hours might help the deficit by reducing unemployment and increase work productivity. There is also an environmental case with strong indications that reducing the working week could help reduce air pollution and the overall carbon footprint. With commuting being a large aspect of the number of workers in rural Wales, it would be beneficial to cut down on travelling and encourage remote working throughout the week. Research by the New Economics Foundation even notes if we spent 10% less time working, our carbon footprint would reduce by 14.6%, and if we cut the hours we work by 25%, our carbon footprint would decline by 36.6%.
But in terms of reality, how likely is this to happen? A group of cross party MPs have recently urged the government to consider a four-day working week for the whole of the UK post-Covid, noting the policy could be “a powerful tool to recover from this crisis”. And with 74% of UK citizens who believe they could do their job to the same standard if a four-day week was imposed, there might be credentials to trial the idea.
Clearly, more work is needed to see how it could be implemented and how it would affect services and education. But no doubt the concept can transform how we live and our relationship with work.
For more information head over to the 4 day week campaign.