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Looking To The Future: Your New Work Week

11 March 2022

The face of work has altered dramatically over the past years. Between new technology, nationwide lockdowns, and the rise of freelancing and the gig economy - if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced some disruption to the way you work.

As all these changes come into effect, more and more people are realising that these disruptions present an opportunity to reconsider the way we work. Our work spaces, work structures, and working hours are becoming increasingly flexible, and this may be a critical opportunity to make positive adjustments designed to last.

The standard 9-5, five days a week work week has been the bog standard for full time employment for the past century, but cracks are finally beginning to show.

How much do we work?

According to research gathered by Statistica, the average number of hours worked in a week was 38.5 in November 2021. This has been a pretty consistent average for the past 30 years, save for in the summer of 2020 when the average dropped way down to 34.7 as a result of the heightened pandemic.

Although it was primarily a crisis, one positive consequence of the pandemic was the fact that it proved we are capable of drastically altering the way we work - and that we are capable of doing so at incredible speed. When asked about the future of their working days, only 6% of workers in the UK were reported to want to return to the way they worked before the outbreak of the pandemic.  

This statistic alone shows that there is a desire to move away from the standard week, in which 38.5 hours of work is expected. This is by no means a phenomenon localised to the UK, however. All across the world, governments and populations alike are expressing a desire to cut down on the hours we work, without a loss of pay.

Trials in Iceland that took place before the pandemic demonstrated that reduced working hours led to an increase in employee satisfaction without harming productivity - in fact, in many cases it even improved productivity. Unions across the country then used these findings to make a successful push for a reduction in weekly hours. In Spain, the government is doing a three year trial of a 32-hour work week without any loss in pay.

Across China, a new craze dubbed “lying flat” has taken hold, in which young people are taking pictures of themselves lying down instead of working - all in protest against the incredibly high expectations in Chinese workplaces. Change seems to be inevitable, as a variety of countries are working on government bills to reduce working hours.

With such a big push for a new work week, what kind of schedule can we look forward to in the future?

The future of work

As this turning tide sweeps the workforce, understanding shifting trends and changing attitudes is becoming increasingly important for both researchers and employers alike. What is considered to be the ideal work week is a notion that is subject to much debate, with recommended hours varying wildly.

While the most common suggestion for cutting down working hours comes in the form of the “Four Day Work Week” - simply adding an extra day to the weekend with no loss in pay or productivity - there are others weighing in on the debate who take things much further. John Maynard Keynes, a giant known as one of the fathers of modern economic theory, posited that the work week should shrink dramatically over time - down to even 15 hours.

Studies conducted on the topic show that lowering the amount of hours greatly reduces the risk for a number of health issues related to stress. In fact, a study from the World Health Organisation found that working an average of 55 hours or more each week increases your risk of stroke by 35%, and the risk of fatal heart disease by 17%, when measured against those working a 35-hour workweek.

Cutting out these harmful extra hours of work may in fact have a much needed positive impact on the overall economy, too. There is no shortage of economists pointing out the fact that a good deal of work is simply there to fill time. Thanks to technology and automation, the need for many workers to be in a full-time position simply no longer exists. Rather than that leading to increased leisure time, it has led to critical levels of underemployment, forcing many people to spend as much time searching for their next job or gig as they do actually earning money!

Working less hours has many hidden benefits, too - including helping the environment. Fewer working hours means far less energy consumption is needed to power offices and factories, plus the added reduction in pollution that comes from cutting out a whole day of commuting.

With so many benefits, and the technology and social will for change - the current move to home offices and a more freely-structured work schedule may be the gateway to a whole new era of work waiting to be realised.