80% of British workers would not favour the introduction of a four-day working week if it means taking a cut to their pay packet, with only one in ten (11%) happy to work less and earn less, new analysis shows today.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) think-tank’s calculations, based on the Labour Force Survey, reveal that three-quarters (73%) of workers would get to work less under the 32 hour work week favoured by campaigners for a four-day week.
But the SMF report finds that for the vast majority of workers, accepting this reduction in working hours is contingent on maintaining the same level of pay as before.
White collar workers and those in top paying jobs are happiest to reduce their working hours even if it means less money. By contrast, care and hospitality staff are amongst those who would rather work for longer than they currently do. (See Figure 1)
15% in professional occupations and 14% of mangers, directors and senior officials would be willing to work less at a lower salary, but 17% of sales, customer service and elementary employees want to work more, the SMF report finds.
Advocates last week hailed a four day week trial in Iceland which had a number of benefits, including increased wellbeing amongst participants. A Survation poll from June 2021 shows 64% of the UK public back a four day week with no reduction in pay.
Leaders in Spain and Scotland have also pledged to trial shorter working weeks whilst the UK government’s Flexible Working Taskforce has considered the idea of a four day week.
But the SMF cautioned a four day week is unlikely to become the norm without a clearer idea of how to pay for it if workers don’t pick up the tab.
Improvements in productivity could go some way to filling the gap, but the average worker would need to raise their productivity by 16% in order to avoid a drop in output, with even bigger productivity gains required of workers currently on longer hours.
That means that a four day week is likely to involve some combination of lower profits for businesses, higher prices for consumers or taxpayer subsidy in order to be viable. It is incumbent upon campaigners to be clear about the balance to be struck, the report says.
The cross-party think-tank’s analysis shows UK workers currently work an average of 36.5 hours per week. However, substantial numbers work more than this.
Almost one third (31%) of workers report working more than 41 hours per week, with 12% working more than 48 hours. 39% are either underworking or overworking, the SMF found.
Low paid workers are currently more likely to work fewer than 32 hours per week (50% in the lowest pay quintile) and the SMF said advocates for a shorter working week often overlooked that some workers need and want to work more.
The SMF said that current working hours and preferences mean that a four day week risks being seen as a elitist and a white-collar office perk by large parts of the working population who couldn’t benefit.
In order to counter this, the think-tank recommended specific businesses and sectors demonstrating the advantages of a shorter work week so they “build a beachhead of support as a first step towards a broader coalition behind the policy.”
Jake Shepherd, Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:
“A four day week which boosts productivity and worker wellbeing is something that businesses and policymakers alike should be striving for. We need to carefully identify which parts of the economy are best placed to trial shorter working hours and do so in a way which does not make working less a cultural dividing line.”
“These findings emphasise that both promises of the four-day week – the cut in working hours, but also the maintenance of income – are what makes it an appealing prospect for workers.
“This presents a problem for campaigners: if they wish to make the scheme as attractive as possible then they need to explain who, if not workers, will bear the cost.”
- SMF calculations are all based on ONS Labour Force Survey data from Q4 2019, the last wave of the survey to reflect a ‘normal’, pre-pandemic labour market.
- The SMF report, “A question of time” is published on Monday 12 July at 07:00 at smf.co.uk/publications/a-question-of-time
- For media enquiries, please contact Linus Pardoe, SMF Impact Officer – firstname.lastname@example.org