The National:

WITH a four-day week backed by the vast majority of Scottish workers, and initial plans for a trial in place from the Scottish Government, it’s time for the country to push on towards implementing the policy.

Following on from the SNP’s £10 million election pledge to help companies trial shorter working hours, a new report from IPPR Scotland has found that 83% of working-age Scots support the introduction of a four-day working week, with no loss of pay. With successful trials of similar schemes in Iceland, New Zealand and Japan attracting worldwide attention, the appetite to see if Scotland could reap the same benefits is growing. Some 80% of Scottish workers, for instance, now believe that a shorter working week would improve their sense of wellbeing, while two-thirds (65%) think that less hours would raise their productivity. 

READ MORE: Scots overwhelmingly back introduction of four-day working week

An idea whose time has come

The Covid pandemic has caused major disruption to our working lives. On the one hand, the last 18 months have shown that significant transitions, like the widespread move to remote working, can be made practically overnight. On the other, some have also found real value in a relative increase in free time, whether as a result of ditching the daily commute, or increased flexibility with their working hours.

Like the rest of the UK though, Scotland has been suffering from an "overwork" epidemic long before Covid, with employees putting in some of the longest hours in Europe, and high rates of burnout as a result. This is particularly acute in the public sector, where work-related poor mental health and bad work-life balance is rampant.

The National:

As part of our work at Autonomy, we recently carried out a substantial listening exercise with workers across the Scottish civil service. A consistent finding from these workshops and interviews was that while the Covid pandemic brought new independence via remote working, the working day became significantly more intense - and in some cases longer - as online meetings began to fill up hours, and workers found themselves effectively "on demand" via their laptops. It’s difficult to leave your work at the office at the end of the day if your office is your living room.

Moves from the Scottish Government to trial a shorter working week therefore come at a critical time - but, as the IPPR’s report notes, it ought to seize the opportunity to ensure the trial yields robust results. A wide range of different workplaces will need to be incorporated, the existing funding for the trial should be increased so as to cover more businesses and suitable forms of monitoring and evaluation will need to be in place so that key findings can be shared across Scotland and beyond.

How do we get there?

There’s no single path to reduced working hours. However, the Scottish Government and the wider public sector are certainly in prime position to act as "pioneers" of a shorter working week. Given the prominence of public sector employment in Scotland - in some regions as much as 33% of overall jobs - a shift to a four-day week could fundamentally reorientate the nation’s labour market and establish a new "gold standard" for employment practices to be modelled elsewhere.

It’ll also be essential for trade unions to continue to put shorter working hours, for no loss in pay, at the centre of their campaigns. The PCS trade union, alongside the STUC, are already making significant steps in this regard. At the same time, forward-thinking "first adopter" private sector companies, who are already reaping the benefits of a reduced working time, should be encouraged.

As IPPR Scotland have noted, with different workplaces come different challenges for implementation, and any planned trial must capture this range. Against some misconceptions, a shorter working week is a viable reality beyond merely office-based, administrative work. Indeed, recent trials in Iceland saw success in settings as diverse as police stations, hospitals and social services. The truth of the matter is that revealing the challenges and successes of working time reduction is precisely what trials are made for.

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Within a short few months, the shorter working week has moved from a fringe idea to a very real possibility and Scotland is now leading the conversation. The Scottish Government has committed to trials, support amongst the working population is overwhelming, and its leading public sector union has brought the conversation directly into the workplace.

Taking a wider lens, COP26 is now just around the corner, and with studies suggesting that shorter working hours could be crucial in tackling the climate crisis, the momentum behind the four day week may be impossible to contain.