The National:
This is the latest edition of a newsletter from Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, called Reinventing Scotland - focusing on the wellbeing economy. Sign up here to receive it every Tuesday at 7pm. 

Mental and physical health are economic system outcomes that are central to the wellbeing economic approach, but they are not considered within the current GDP growth-dominated system. Poor physical health – and as we are now becoming more aware – poor mental health, severely damages the performance of the economy and costs the NHS billions. 

Covid-19 changed work forever

Many non-essential workers found themselves locked in their homes for the best part of a year and half. Flat dwellers in particular had limited/no access to green spaces and so the social and environmental contributions to mental wellbeing were restricted.

Although many couldn't wait to get out again or into the office, many also realised that they could easily work from home and that a mix of office and home working would improve their lives. 

READ MORE: What will a four-day work week look like in Scotland?

Most office workers spend at least an hour a day travelling and removing that even a couple of times a week drastically altered working life. People enjoyed more time before, after and even during the working day to do household tasks and provide childcare and found they had more time for hobbies, exercise etc. 

Many also found they could save money on commuting, buying lunch and coffee, and even on dog walking and childcare. This made homeworking far more attractive to office workers but risked creating a class divide between office workers, essential workers and factory/hospitality workers to whom commuting remains essential.

Altered states

This altered the psychology of employees and managers alike. Employees realised there is more to life than work. Managers and business owners found that productivity could be maintained, even increased with new online project management and remote working tools Slack, Zoom, Teams, etc.

In the 90s, I worked in London for one of the world's largest companies in their sales and marketing department, evaluating promotional budgets and marketing spend.

At P&G, we arrived for breakfast meetings at 7.30am, lunch meetings started at noon and then by 7pm we usually put our jackets on our chairs so senior management thought we were in meetings and snuck out to the pub; and to be honest they were pub meetings. Every one of us was burnt out by our mid-20s. Now as an employer, if I ask my team to do a single day of those hours I find myself reminding them to use their flexi hours to claim it back. 

Productive people experience wellbeing

Society has become more informed about mental health and the issues of burnout. Very few people are paid for what they produce nowadays other than those in the gig economy delivering pizzas etc.

For most people productivity is not driven by how long their body can repeat a process but how healthy and focussed their brain is. That raises the question for many companies – would we have happier, more fulfilled, smarter, sharper, more productive people if we gave them flexi-time, home working opportunities and even the option of a four-day week?  

Let's be clear 

Maintaining 100% productivity but with the reduced hours is the critical element of the four-day working week. That means employees do 100% of their work in 80% of their contracted hours for 100% of their salary. I could guess your age by how achievable you think the above statement is. 

Consider the evidence 

A four-day week trial of nine Canadian companies found 100% were planning to maintain the practice following the trial. Seven in 10 employees reported less burnout and self reported mental and physical health scores improved by 17 and 12% a year into the trial. Participating companies also reported an average revenue increase of 15% over the trial period.

American crowdfunding firm Kickstarter introduced a four-day work week in 2021 and found that productivity increased dramatically. Jon Leland, chief strategy officer, said they were previously lucky to meet 70% of objectives but Kickstarter was now achieving results more than 90% of the time.

READ MORE: Four-day work week: What countries already use the system?

Closer to home 

A pilot scheme involving 61 companies (2900 workers) from June to December 2022 found 92% of firms deciding to continue the four-day week:

  • Year-on-year revenue increased by 35% on average
  • Number of staff leaving fell by 57% over the trial period 
  • 55% of employees reported an increase in their ability at work and 71% had reduced levels of burnout
  • 39% were less stressed and 43% reported improved mental health
  • 73% reported greater satisfaction and the time males spent with their children more than doubled from 13% to 27%

Other factors, some good – some bad

University of Reading research found 67% of employees on a 4-day working week drove less, having a positive impact on the environment - however it may also accelerate the hollowing out of city centre economies.

Survation polling earlier this year found that 58% believe a four-day week will be standard by 2030 and 65% want the Government to run four-day week trials with no pay loss for workers – something the Scottish Government has recently announced. There are however many economic sectors where these opportunities are limited, particularly in health and social care, education, services etc. We will have to ensure that a working hours divide doesn't become the new class system but mark my words, the four-day working week is coming.

How do you feel about that? Let us know in the comments.