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In These Times - November 18, 2021

In late July, as he introduced a groundbreaking proposal for a 32-hour work week to Congress, Rep. Mark Takano (D‑Calif.) declared Americans should have ​“more time to live their lives, and not just work.” With workers returning to the job as certain Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, Takano noted many people will want to work fewer hours instead of going back to ​“normal.”

For more than a decade, my colleagues and I at the New Economics Foundation have been arguing that it’s high time to move to a shorter working week. As we show in our new book, The Case for a Four Day Week, growing evidence suggests reduced work time is good for human well-being, good for the economy and good for the environment.

We’ve grown used to being told a four-day workweek is too radical and can’t be done — but that’s all starting to change. Since Covid struck in winter 2020, for many workers, going into the office to work for five full days a week has become the exception rather than the rule. The number of workers who know what it feels like to have more free time has risen dramatically. So has the number of employers who have discovered it’s possible to reorganize staff time and still get the job done. Across rich countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), more than 50 million workers have been subject to Covid-related work time reduction and job retention schemes. Most of these changes were intended to be temporary, but have given both employers and workers crucial experience of doing things differently.

At this point it should be clear that the economy will not simply ​“bounce back” to the same place it was before we faced this pandemic. Anyone concerned about the climate emergency knows that mustn’t happen anyway. The time for tweaking at the edges of our economic system is well past. We need to move toward a deeper shift — not only in how the economy works, but in how people think the economy should work.

The shorter working week is an idea whose time has come.

It will help post-Covid recovery. And it’s a strategy for the long-haul — a foundation stone for transitioning to a fairer and more sustainable economy. As such, it’s part of a broader policy agenda that includes raising hourly wages. Reduced working time must go hand in hand with measures to combat low pay.

Shorter working time can reduce stress and anxiety and improve physical health. For example, a study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization found that exposure to long working hours (around 55 hours a week) ​“is common and causes large attributable burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke.” The U.K. government reports that stress, depression or anxiety account for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health — with ​“workload pressures” routinely cited as a major cause. ...
Read full report at In These Times