IT looks like we’re at the start of a deep cultural shift about the role of work in our lives.

There are many signs, but certainly the announcement in Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government last week – that some Scottish civil servants will trial a four-day working week next year – is a major indicator.

The aim is to “assess the wellbeing, environmental, and productivity benefits” of a 32-hour week. This would usually imply a weekend starting on Friday – but it could also mean another day of the week, or an overall reduction in the hours of each working day. Crucially, they’ll be paid the same wage as their previous five-day week.

In any case, it’s a hard pushback on the frontier of paid work. If anyone wondered what a “wellbeing economy” might mean in practice, here it is – with teeth.

And once workers and employers bite on the opportunity, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to prise them away.

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The major recent six-month trial that most of this week’s reports have cited – run with 61 UK companies last year, by the campaign groups 4 Day Week and Autonomy – delivered stunning results.

There’s much to satisfy the hard-nosed. It found no drop in productivity, with a mild increase in revenue across the companies (1.4%). Staff sick days fell by two-thirds, staff retention improved by 57%, with 71% reporting lower levels of burnout.

Some 56 of the companies were continuing the trial after the report came out earlier this year, with 18 saying the policy is a permanent change.

The Autonomy report’s big-font quote comes from the CEO of a consultancy company: “When you realise that [extra free] day has allowed you to be relaxed and rested, and ready to absolutely go for it on those other four days, you start to realise that to go back to working on a Friday would feel really wrong – stupid actually.”

So does the four-day week mean more “recreation”, something wiring you up to deliver an even more pounding work schedule? Nothing too revolutionary here, you might say. It’s interesting to read that what most workers in the trial used their extra day for was, as they phrased it, “life admin”.

This was a term, writes Autonomy, “used to describe essential tasks such as food shopping, attending medical appointments, doing household repairs or cleaning. Many people explained that being able to complete these tasks on their fifth day enabled the weekend to become free for genuine leisure and self-initiated activities, as opposed to chores.”

Already this reveals many possibilities. Might it be the case that so much recent economic activity is based on people running (or biking) around after other people who don’t have the time for “chores” like cooking, laundering, and provisioning?

That a 32-hour week might also mean a six/seven-hour working day is another way to cut this cake.

The idea of “genuine leisure and self-initiated activities” also hints at more than just gym attendance or granny visiting (worthwhile though both are). The report says that most workers, during their extra time, did what they usually did in their leisure activities.

But some also studied for professional qualifications. And bosses in the survey were very stern about people “not just taking on another paid job” in their extra day. (Which raises the question: exactly how “free” are you in your free time?)

There’s a squirmy issue here, at the heart of the current four-day week fervour. Which is that it merely updates the old Marxist concept of the “reproduction of labour”, in response to our metacrisis.

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How do you keep modern workers – complex and digitalised, Covid-chastened, crisis-anxious, mental-health-aware, quality-of-life-oriented – purposefully tethered to their workstation, capitalist or bureaucratic? Shorter working weeks may seem increasingly to be the answer.

Corporations are publicly perceived to be hoarding vast reserves of capital. So a four-day week that compels them to spend more, both on efficient technology and increased staff, passes the public’s fairness test. For small-and-medium-sized enterprises, it might drive them to value and develop the talents of their existing staff.

But we must try to remember the non-economic arguments for all this reform. I’ve always loved that Oscar Wilde quote: “The trouble with socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” If, after chores, our afternoons and weekends truly open up, then might we have a flourishing amongst ourselves as active citizens, as much as workers/consumers?

We need to be subtle here. In the time we wrest from the maw of our economic lives, no-one (and no institution) should be prescribing “socially and civically useful labour”. But maybe something like it may arise and emerge, if we are invited into conviviality.

This thought came to me when reading my colleague Stuart Cosgrove’s recent column in these pages. It was about how the Scottish Government’s target of “every day of the year there’s a festival” was revitalising communities across the country, as they rose to its challenge.

The enlivening was economic and institutional, as well as cultural, reported Stuart. That is, it wasn’t just selecting authors or artists, but developing skills of organising, project-managing, promotion, caring for visitors, etc.

The festival/carnival as not just “nice to have”, but as a way of strengthening the coherence and capacity of communities, could be extended to other areas. Ones that are fringed with real crises.

For example, what about the need to localise food supply chains in Scotland, well in advance of the inevitable food disruptions that will come from global warming?

Somewhat regretfully, I’d have to say the ball was dropped here in Scotland. Over a decade ago, Mike Small from Bella Caledonia was advocating the “Fife Diet” on exactly this basis. Couldn’t we revive such a call, for people to creatively build their own regional “diets”, both in gastronomy and infrastructure?

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It may seem impetuous to suggest this. But even a three-day week could become increasingly justifiable, as we reckon with the megatrends of both AI-led automation and hard climate limits.

When humans are being replaced in their routine mental labours by computation, it’s a political choice to disemploy them – rather than deploy them less, or differently.

But add to that our need to reduce “material throughput” (as the green economists say), which directly attacks hyper- and status-consumption as the very direction and function of the economy. We will need Scots who are happier developing relationships, or self-developing, than they are doing retail therapy.

Happier conjuring up plans for their locality to become more convivial and resilient, than furiously fist-waving in polarised wars between “cultures” or “parties”.

As Plato once murmured, how do we want to do what we have to do? In any case, we’re running out of planetary time to make this giant “transition” between systems happen (until it violently and disruptively happens to us).

But strangely, if we give ourselves more time – literally, more hours and days – whereby we can deliberate, even just quietly contemplate, the direction we’re heading in, Scots may end up better prepared for the coming tumult than most.

When I hear talk of the “wellbeing” economy, it’s this deep whisper about a rocky future I hear at the heart of it – not the hastily enunciated commitments that usually follow (“It’s also all about growth, of course.”)

Of course, at the moment, it’s a sair fecht a’ roon. But I always wanted a Scottish nationalism to be, at the same time, a Scottish futurism.

So I am glad that the SNP/Green government is planting a positive flag into difficult upcoming terrain, with this four-day week commitment. Which, I duly inform you, is on the way to three.