Not retiring: working a 4-day week on full pay

WM People’s third podcast focuses on the 4-day week, diversity and inclusion and sickness.

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Is it possible to work less and get paid full time? Well, according to the 4-Day Week campaign it is. They have just published the findings of their six-month trial, the largest in the world, with 61 companies. A discussion about the results features in the third podcast.

The 4-day week is perhaps an idea whose time has come. Following the pandemic and concerns about older workers dropping out of the workforce due to ill health, caring responsibilities or other reasons, it works on the premise that you work 20% less of a full-time week but for the same pay.  The analysis, published last week, found 92% of participating companies said they wanted to continue with the 4-day week. The podcast discussed how different employers interpreted the brief in different ways according to the sector they worked in as well as criticism of it, for example, that some employers seemed to have extended the other days to get around it, which seems to go against the spirit of the trial.

The aim of the campaign is to build more rest into the working week given how intense work is these days. Of course, a four-day week won’t work for all sectors or all job functions, but it does show that people are questioning the traditional ways of doing things. We need to plan for a longer working life and that means building resilience and avoiding burnout by midlife [or before]. It might mean paid sabbaticals, for instance, or support to return to the workplace after a career break for health reasons along the lines of the returner programmes for those who have taken a break for childcare reasons.

Some way or another we need to build a workplace that allows people to do all the other things they have to do to keep things going and recognise that an antiquated model built mainly on women doing all the home stuff for free is not adequate for modern life and something has to give.

The podcast also covered discussions about diversity and inclusion, including criticism of unconscious bias training by the outgoing head of the Institute for Race Relations who said that much of it is box ticking and doesn’t address structural issues. The discussion ranged from the D & I backlash and tick box D & I to how D & I has grown to embrace many types of difference – although age has often been sidelined, whether some aspects of D & I are losing ground to new initiatives and whether people find it more uncomfortable to talk about some aspects of D & I.

The final section of the podcast focused on how to negotiate with your boss about children’s sickness. It followed a pop-up poll on about sickness which found a third of parents said their employer was unsympathetic about their children’s sickness and that 72% of parents have recently been into work although they were sick. It’s not just child or parent sickness that is a problem, though. There has been much in the news about long-term health issues affecting mainly older workers and causing a spike in economic inactivity since the pandemic. A large part of the problem is to do with the current state of the NHS and social care service, but other issues include the need for more targeting of older workers for training and upskilling in ways that recognise their broader experience and for more high quality, flexible jobs. There’s much to do and many of the problems are deep-seated, but only by understanding them can we make some progress towards adapting our working lives to a fast-changing world.

*You can listen to the podcast here.

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