A carefully designed four-day week could be introduced in the UK immediately and be affordable for most firms with more than 50 workers, a thinktank has said.
A report by Autonomy – which is campaigning for a shorter working week without loss of pay – said the majority of 50,000 firms studied would be able to cope with the change through higher productivity or by raising prices.
The thinktank said the government should investigate ways of rolling out a four-day week, starting with the public sector.
Although many companies are struggling with the lingering impact of the UK’s deepest slump in more than 300 years, Autonomy said that even under its “worst-case” scenario, a four-day week would be affordable for most firms once the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic had passed.
It accepted, however, that some firms in sectors where labour costs were high and profit margins thin would experience cashflow problems if changes were implemented too quickly.
Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: “For the large majority of firms, reducing working hours is an entirely realistic goal for the near future. By providing a hypothetical ‘stress test’, we can dispel any myths about the affordability of a four-day working week.
“Any policy push will have to be carefully designed, and different strategies would need to be deployed for different industries. However, what is remarkable is that if it happened overnight, with no planning, most firms would still remain profitable.
“The four-day week is picking up momentum across the world post Covid-19 and we’re calling on the government to begin investigating the best options for rolling it out.”
Autonomy said a shorter working week would help boost the UK’s weak productivity and enhance wellbeing. It added that it was likely change would happen first in the public sector, but the process of changing expectations and behavioural norms could be sped up by the creation of more bank holidays, and the reintroduction of pro-union legislation.
Peter Dowd, the Labour MP for Bootle and former shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “If the government is serious about levelling up this country then they should consider the four-day week as it represents one of the best opportunities for sharing work more equally across the economy.
“I’m in favour of the four-day week being introduced as all the evidence shows it would boost wellbeing, improve productivity and give British workers a much better work-life balance.”