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Modern technology means four-day working week is in sight, report finds

10 Sep 2018 By Maggie Baska

But experts stress greater flexibility is more important than focusing on days worked

UK employers should consider moving to a four-day working week as new technology makes work more efficient, according to a report published today.

The TUC’s A future that works for working people report argued that technological advances should be used to reduce workloads and boost productivity without sacrificing pay. The survey of 2,145 UK workers found four in five (81 per cent) wanted to reduce their working time in the future, with 45 per cent opting for a four-day working week. 

“Working people deserve their fair share – and that means using the gains from new tech to raise pay and allow more time with their families,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “If productivity gains from new technology are even half as good as promised, then the country can afford to make working lives better.”

However, Claire McCartney, CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser, stressed the most important takeaway from the report was using technology to drive employee flexibility, not the four-day week itself. 

“Some people might be working quite long hours, which works for them and their employer,” McCartney said. “If people have greater flexibility to choose what works for them, they are able to control their work-life balance.” 

Lynn Cahillane, jobs expert at totaljobs, advised employers they did not have to be as extreme as scrapping an entire working day to help employees with their work-life balance.

“In the shorter term, there are simple ways companies can improve productivity without taking Friday off,” Cahillane said. “This could be as simple as shortening meetings, implementing email blackout periods and encouraging full-hour lunch breaks away from desks.” 

The TUC report also showed a majority (74 per cent) of workers want technology to give them more control over their working lives. However, half (51 per cent) expected that the benefits of new technology would be ‘hoarded’ by managers and shareholders, while only a third (34 per cent) felt the benefits would be shared fairly between employers, shareholders and employees. 

Respondents also thought technological advances could lead to fewer dangerous jobs (68 per cent), more creative work (68 per cent) and more enjoyable work (66 per cent). Two-thirds (66 per cent) said automation could result in more use of interpersonal skills. 

Matthew Buskell, area vice president for EMEA at corporate learning leader Skillsoft, advised that upskilling employees is essential to overcome the “paradox of automation”. 

“As we become more reliant on technology, the less inclined we are to take control of exceptional cases when technology fails,” Bushell said. “Keeping human skills sufficiently fresh to know when and how to intervene will become increasingly critical."

He added that businesses should look to upskill and retool their workforces to use new technologies to augment roles or explore creative approaches. 

Last month, a YouGov survey, commissioned by McDonald’s, confirmed that many UK workers believe traditional nine-to-five working is no longer the norm

The research found that only 14 per cent of UK employees would opt for working hours of 9am to 5pm if given the choice.

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