Scotland urged to expand four-day working week trial

The majority of Scots are in favour of a reduced working week, but a think tank is calling for the pilot to include a wider range of people

Scots are overwhelmingly in favour of a four-day week, a poll has found, however researchers have urged the Scottish government to expand its proposed trial, warning that lower-paid workers might miss out.

The Scottish government has announced plans to pilot shorter working time, including the trial of a four-day working scheme, as part of a £10m project following the success of such schemes in Iceland and New Zealand.

A recent poll by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Scotland, which surveyed 2,203 working-aged Scottish people, found 88 per cent were willing to take part in the scheme, while 80 per cent would support the introduction of a four-day working week with no loss of pay.

The poll found that there could be a positive impact on wellbeing, with almost four in five (78 per cent) of respondents saying they would spend the extra time with friends and family, and two in five (40 per cent) saying they would enjoy hobbies.

Overall, four in five (80 per cent) said a four-day week would have a positive effect on their wellbeing.

However, IPPR Scotland has called for the pilot’s remit to be expanded to include more sectors and different types of workers, including people who work in non-office-based jobs, shift workers, flexible workers and those working condensed hours and part-time workers.

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In a report, the think tank warned the current pilot might not be a fair test of the proposals unless these often lower-paid roles, which can be less straightforward to reduce working time for, were included.

Rachel Statham, senior research fellow at IPPR Scotland and the report’s co-author, welcomed the four-day week trial as a positive step towards building wellbeing, but said that it must include all workplaces. 

“The full-time, nine-to-five office job is not how many people across Scotland work – and shorter working time trials need to reflect that reality,” said Statham, adding that the trial must be examined from the perspective of “shift workers, those working excessive hours to make ends meet, or those who currently have fewer hours than they would like to have”.

In addition, IPPR Scotland has suggested additional policy measures to ensure that workers in these situations do not miss out on benefits of the scheme and are not adversely impacted.

These include exploring increased annual leave entitlements, shortened daily shifts, and expanded entitlement to other forms of leave – such as new bank holidays, expanded parental leave, and increased annual leave entitlements.

Liz Beck, founder and managing director of Aspiring HR, said that the four-day week could offer many benefits to wellbeing and organisational productivity, but warned there are some risks to consider 

“The risk can be where planning and communication are left to chance,” said Beck, adding that “a good overlap of cover during the week, ensuring time together for collaboration plus well-managed workflows and communication tools can really aid effective working”.

However, Gemma Bullivant, an HR coach and consultant, said that while she supported the concept, she had doubts about the ability of already overworked employees to deliver the same outputs in less time.

“If the idea is for employees to deliver fewer outputs for the same money, [I wonder] how would that work economically,” she said, adding that trials would be essential to better understand potential pitfalls.

“I can't help being reminded of the 'unlimited annual leave' concept that doesn't work as well in practice as it sounds on paper, whereby individuals end up taking less leave, not more, and sometimes report feeling quite anxious about booking leave,” she said.