We Don’t Need a Five-Day Week
Working fewer days could boost our productivity, our home life and our society
In the midst of the lumbering euro crisis, international lenders last year urged a struggling Greece to work a six-day week in order to revive its stagnating economy. At first glance, this made sense—something must be done, so why not get everybody to work harder? Surely this will generate more output and be the sought-after fillip to kick-start growth?
And yet a growing number of economists and social scientists suggest this is not the way to go. “The conventional wisdom says that, in hard times, what we need to do is double down and work harder because we’re poorer,” said Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, at a London School of Economics conference. “That’s the standard view. But it’s a fallacy.”
How about doing the opposite— working fewer days? How about a four-day week? The answer to our economic woes surely lies not in a redistribution of wealth but, as Schor advocates, in a redistribution of paid working time. Indeed, the London-based think tank New Economics Foundation ( NEF) goes further still and calls for a 21-hour week, 21 hours being the average number worked each week by all Britons of working age.
Were this to be mandated, there would, of course, be problems for those whose reduced wages failed to cover living costs, even while there would be a reduction in benefits. The NEF doesn’t suggest forcing the issue; rather, they’d like to create the conditions whereby it can happen over time.
But it need not be a zero-sum game, as is evident from the shining example of the four-day weeks that already exist. In June 2008, the US state of Utah implemented the idea for most of its public-sector