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What do you think about a four-day working week?

The overwhelming majority of British workers favour its introduction, with one big caveat – dropping a day of work should not lead to a pay cut.

The cross-party think tank the Social Market Foundation research found that eight in 10 British employees would opt for a four-day working week if employers maintained their salaries.

Only one in 10 said they would be prepared to work fewer hours and take a pay cut.

The research also identified 73% of workers would work fewer hours under the 32-hour working week, promoted by those campaigning for a four-day week.

The analysis is based on official employment data from the Office for National Statistics. Employees in the UK work for an average of 36.5 hours a week.

There is a split between the desire to work fewer hours between higher and lower earners, with executives in top-paying jobs the most willing to cut their working hours, even if they took a pay cut as a result.

Care workers and those employed in the hospitality industry would prefer to work more hours each week.

The research also found that people working in banking, finance and insurance were most likely to want a reduction in their working hours. Around one in seven people working in these professions wanted a reduction in their working hours.

The idea of a four-day working week was gaining traction even before the onset of the pandemic and a significant shift in flexible working patterns.

According to advocates of a four-day working week, working fewer hours helps create more jobs, improve our physical and mental health, and strengthen families and communities.

We have already seen national pilot schemes in Spain and Scotland, with large employer Unilever carrying out a 12-month trial of the four-day working week for all of its employees in New Zealand.

When a four-day working week was piloted in Iceland, it was heralded an “overwhelming success” by research. Participants in that trial reported improved wellbeing, and workplace productivity was maintained or even improved during the trial.

The Social Market Foundation also warned that a four-day working week is unlikely to become standard practice in the UK unless it becomes clear who pays the costs.

Jack Shepherd, a researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:

“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.”

The Foundation found that the average worker could maintain their productivity in a four-day week if they boosted their output by 16%.

In conclusion, the Foundation believes that a four-day week would only be viable in the UK if businesses were prepared to accept lower profits, consumers accepted higher prices for goods and services, and the taxpayer could subsidise it.

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