The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has published a Report predicting that shorter working weeks are soon to become the norm. NEF suggests that a shorter working week of an average of 21 hours would help us all “flourish”. I’m quite sure it would!

According to NEF, a number of factors contribute to the inevitable shift to a shorter working week:

  • A move towards environmentally friendly living: people are more eager to recycle and less likely to over-consume. This means less demand, therefore less production, therefore less work to go around.
  • Self sufficiency: Many people are growing their own veg, making their own clothes, and generally becoming less dependant on supermarkets. There has been a surge of news items recently about the growing trend in allotments and urban gardens (waste sites that had been marked for development prior to the downturn, being transformed into allotment areas), there was also a story earlier this week about the national trust setting up community farms. Again, less demand, less production, less work in these service industries.
  • And finally, the economic crisis: the result, one part of society is out of work, while others are overworked and stressed out. Shorter working weeks for those who are overworked would reduce their stress and “free up” work for those who are currently unemployed.

Anna Coote, co-author of the report sees this shift as a wonderful idea, saying that so many of us “live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume. And our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.”

This sounds fantastic, but in order for the ideal to be achieved, society will need to make some major changes to the way it has been operating in recent years. Employees would also need to be willing to take a fairly hefty reduction in salary.

A switch from full-time work to 21 hours is possibly a bit extreme for the majority of the working population. However, the UK consistently comes out as one of the hardest working countries in Europe when it comes to working hours. I suspect that there is a balance to be struck. One possible way that this will be achieved would be by way of a right to request flexible working for all employees. At present this statutory right is restricted to certain employees with child care responsibilities or certain caring responsibilities. As mentioned in my previous blog - Mandy vs Yvette Flexible Working Showdown – consideration is being given to allowing all employees this right. My own view is that working patterns have becoming increasingly flexible over the years and that this trend will continue to the extent that a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, will at some point in the (possibly distant!) future become the exception rather than the norm.