Many places already have a shorter working week

Back from my long summer break to find New Economics Foundation (NEF) announcing that “the working hours debate is now well and truly mainstream”. It must be time to get stuck in again…

NEF have found that there are a whole host of examples of experiments in shorter or different working hours from around the world. For example:

  • Gothenburg, Sweden is trialling a 30 hour week for public sector workers – without reducing their pay. This is arranged as five six-hour days.
  • Staff working for Chicago software company 37signals do a 32 hour four day week for six months of the year. This company also offers staff ‘a month on your own’ for them to develop their own ideas.
  • Germany has run a policy of short-time work through the recession, to allow employers to share available work between employees. Firms could cut working time by up to 50% with the government then reimbursing up to two thirds of lost wages.
  • Finland has for decades operated a paid leave scheme, where employees can take up to a year’s leave, funded by a mix of employee, employer and state, and an unemployed person fills the role temporarily, gaining skills and experience. The leaver-taker receives a higher allowance if they use the time to do vocational training.

NEF are building a database of such examples; read the full blog on their findings, Around the world in a shorter working week.

Thank God it’s Friday…

I read recently that a fashion is sweeping UK companies, to allow employees Friday afternoons off in summer (they make the time up doing longer days the rest of the week). It got me thinking…

A friend works in a medium sized company in the City. She says that, in her company, it is accepted that there is a different feel to Fridays. People who are part time don’t work, there are few meetings, and lots of full timers catch up on stuff generated during the week, perhaps working at home.

Another friend recently organised a policy seminar… on a Friday, on the grounds that people are more likely to attend something involving interesting food for thought rather than progress to the next deadline on a Friday. One of the attendees, a former government minister, left early… because she had had enough? No, because she was picking up her children from school.

I go to a pilates class on Friday mornings, along with many local friends in Harringay, my home district of north London. The instructor is taking a break to have a baby. She tried to find an interim replacement, but she couldn’t. All the instructors she knew are chock-a-block booked up on Fridays. This is must be because many people (who are not pilates instructors) are not at work and can go to pilates classes.

Perhaps the shorter working week is closer than I thought.