13/08/2014

By Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business


When Carlos Slim announced his support for a three-day working week, much of the private sector scoffed. There was a sense amongst many business owners that this was little more than a flight of fancy.

But in fact, shorter working weeks are not just a possibility — they will soon become a necessity. Shorter weeks are good for employees, good for business, and good for the economy. Shortly, a five-day week will simply no longer make sense.

The nine to five, Monday to Friday working patterns are an anachronism. They made sense at the start of the 20th Century, but today we need to recognise that the nature of work has changed. Flexibility and agility are key in today’s rapidly changing private sector landscape. Employees should be judged on their output — not on the number of hours they spend at their desks.

Employees will clearly value shorter working weeks. Provided that they are still properly compensated, a reduction in hours will boost staff morale — and this in turn will benefit businesses through an increase in productivity. We already know that a happier workforce means more and higher quality output.

Crucially, though, a more equitable sharing of work amongst adults would be a massive boon to the economy. Unemployment is still high. If we all work less, but we split the total work more efficiently amongst the total workforce, we can help to get more people into employment, cutting the amount of financial support the state needs to dish out.

But perhaps most importantly, technology will soon make shorter working weeks a necessity. Automation is fundamentally changing the way in which the world of work operates. Huge swathes of the jobs that we take for granted will soon cease to exist — indeed, since so-called ‘post-Fordism’ began, the working class have seen machines rapidly eat away at their work. So far, unforgivably, there has been no political will to mitigate that change, or even to efficiently manage it. Soon, though, as white collar and service sector jobs start to disappear, both politicians and the private sector will find they have no political choice but to take action.

But automation needn’t be scary. Indeed, the prospect of less work should be a positive one. By working fewer hours we can help to build a workforce that isn’t tied to their desks. Instead, a shift in working patterns can help all of us spend more time fulfilling not just our working potential but also our creative goals. More tangibly, the more time we spend away from our desks, the more time we spend as consumers — and that is another boost both for the private sector and for the Exchequer.

Carlos Slim is right — a shorter working week works for everyone. This change is coming. It’s up to us to make sure it benefits everyone.