The Case For A Four Day Week by Anna Coote, Aidan Harper and Alfie Stirling

The Blurb On The Back:

Not long ago, people thought that a ten-hour, six-day week was normal; now, it’s the eight-hour, five-day week.  Will that soon be history too?

In this book, three leading experts argue why it should be.  They map out a pragmatic pathway to a shorter working week that safeguards earnings for the lower-paid and keeps the economy flourishing.  They argue that this radical vision will give workers time to be better parents and carers, allow men and women to share paid and unpaid work more equally, and help to save jobs – and create new ones – in the post-pandemic era.  Not only that, but it will combat stress and illness caused by overwork and help to protect the environment. 

This is essential reading for anyone who has ever felt they could live and work a lot better if all weekends are three days long. 

You can buy THE CASE FOR A FOUR DAY WEEK by Anna Coote, Aidan Harper and Alfie Starling from Amazon USA, Amazon UKWaterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers): 

Anna Coote is Principal Fellow, Aidan Harper a Researcher and Alfie Stirling the Director of Research and the Chief Economist at the New Economics Foundation.  Published during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a timely and thought-provoking look at the arguments in favour of the introduction of a four-day work week (including some fascinating case studies where reduced work hours have been introduced) and sets out a roadmap for achieving the same.

Do not come into this book expecting a look at the pros and cons of a four-day week.  That’s not what this series is about – it starts from a position and then seeks to make the case for it.  On that basis, I think that this book achieved its aim.  I should also say that having previously read THE CASE FOR UNIVERSAL BASIC SERVICES by Anna Coote and Andrew Percy, I think that this book benefits from the fact that it’s very clear about what it’s looking at and why it’s important to achieve, which makes it much follow and potentially buy into.

The authors start by setting out the reasons why a shorter working week would be beneficial and what’s interesting is that they look at it from the perspective of personal health (demonstrating the affects on stress levels and the corresponding lowering of sick days for businesses), distributing work and time (which will become important as automation and AI start to encroach within the workplace) and the impact on gender relations (including unpaid work in the home, gender relations generally and transforming childcare).  

I was less convinced by the arguments about transformation of public services to a co-production model (which involves people taking more involvement in local services) or that it will enable people to participate more in democracy because it assumes that people will use their extra time to become better informed about issues and get involved and personally, I just don’t see it.  I was also not particularly convinced by the environmental case because while the authors say there’s evidence that countries with lower working hours have lower carbon footprints and carbon emissions and consumption, I’d be interested to know how much of that is due to public travel alternatives and cultural elements (and it’s interesting how in the next chapter on challenges, they acknowledge that extra leisure time can mean more consumption).

The chapter that looks at the challenges posed is pretty even handed, examining the impact on wages (and acknowledging that a reduction in pay will not work for everyone and that it could fall unfairly on women and that it involves battling a culture where working long hours is thought to demonstrate commitment).  There are some interesting counters to this, including looking at the potential increase in productivity but it’s interesting that the main argument seems to be that a complete systematic change is needed to how we approach the economy and productivity as a concept in general and while I don’t disagree with either idea, given how big that is as a notion, it made me wonder whether it actually undercuts the case for case for a four-day week if it’s necessary to change the entire concept of the economy first.

The case studies are genuinely fascinating with the authors taking a look at a number of different countries including the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium a pathfinder project in Utah and negotiated initiatives in Germany and employer initiatives in Japan and New Zealand.  It’s interesting to read about the outcomes of these projects and, in the case of the state led initiatives, it’s clear that the big problem with this is political opposition from the right wing.

The authors go onto set out a road map for transitioning to a four-day week, which I thought was quite pragmatic although I would have liked to have seen an item in there about bringing professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development on board with promoting and examining the benefits of the initiative and also including it in education like MBA courses or executive development as a way of getting businesses on board because it’s pretty clear that employers need to be convinced if it’s to get any kind of traction.

All in all though, I thought that this was a genuinely interesting book that made a lot of very good points about the benefits of a four-day week and why it should be taken seriously.  What’s particularly interesting is that this book was finalised during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a lot of changes to how people work and in my industry a number of employers did reduce hours to four day weeks as a way of avoiding job lay offs.  I think that this is a timely book and one that could very well help shape the debate on work life as we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic and look to build a new normal. 

THE CASE FOR A FOUR DAY WEEK was released in the United Kingdom on 27th November 2020.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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