Poll shows 80% of Britons against reduction in working hours if accompanied by a cut in wages
The overwhelming majority of British workers would not want to see the introduction of a four-day working week if it meant taking a cut to their pay.
Eight out of 10 British employees would not favour accepting a reduction in working hours if it resulted in lower wages, according to research by cross-party thinktank, the Social Market Foundation (SMF), with only one in 10 employees willing to work less and earn less.
Almost three-quarters of workers (73%) would end up working less under the 32-hour working week which is promoted by four-day week campaigners, according to the SMF’s calculations, based on official employment data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The SMF found UK workers currently spend an average of 36.5 hours a week working, and its research exposed a clear split between higher and lower earners in their desire to work fewer or more hours.
White-collar workers and people in top-paying jobs were the most willing to cut working hours, even if it led to a salary reduction. In contrast, care workers and people employed in hospitality were among those who said they would rather work more hours than currently.
People working in banking, finance and insurance, along with those in professional occupations, were among those most likely to say they wanted a reduction in their working hours, representing around one in seven staff in the sector.
Conversely, one in seven people working in the hospitality sector were likely to say they wanted to work for longer.
The shorter working week has been discussed repeatedly in recent years, but the idea has been gaining traction again, as academics and researchers consider how to improve the world of work following the pandemic.
Advocates of the four-day week say reduced working hours could help to create jobs, while improving people’s mental and physical health, and strengthening families and communities.
The governments of Spain and Scotland have launched national pilot schemes, while consumer goods company Unilever is currently conducting a 12-month trial of the four-day week for all of its New Zealand employees, with participants paid the same as before.
A trial of the reduced working week in Iceland was deemed an “overwhelming success” by researchers, with participants reporting increased wellbeing, while productivity in the workplaces included in the trial remained the same or even improved.
However, the SMF has warned that the four-day week is unlikely to become the norm in the UK, unless it becomes clear who will pick up the tab, while it also risks being viewed as elitist, and only possible for the highest earners.
“This presents a problem for campaigners: if they wish to make the scheme as attractive as possible then they need to explain who, if not workers, will bear the cost,” said Jack Shepherd, researcher at the Social Market Foundation.
Improved productivity could play a role, although the SMF found the average worker would need to increase their productivity by 16% to avoid a drop in output.
The SMF concluded the four-day week would only be viable through a combination of factors, including businesses being prepared to accept lower profits, consumers accepting higher prices, and taxpayers subsidising it in some way.
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