Three-day working week, anyone?

aat comment

A three-day working week would create a happier and more productive workforce. So says Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms billionaire and world’s second richest man. This made quite a splash over our front pages back in the nice hot summer month of July, let’s take a look at how this could possibly work. 

The idea was that people would work longer hours over fewer days, extending their working lives as they live for longer. Could Carlos Slim be on to something?

The idea sounds drastic and would trigger a huge change in working patterns if adopted widely. But it also comes at a time when people are increasingly seeking a more flexible way of working, facilitated by technology. The work-hard play-hard mentality would lend itself more easily to some jobs and professions than others.

For those employers able to adapt, the upside might well be a happier workforce motivated by a more flexible working pattern that better suits their lifestyle and affords more leisure time. Companies could tap into a broader talent pool, attracting staff previously put off by five-day working.

Another upside would be reduced transport costs for workers and allow more people to move further away from their place of work to more affordable areas, without fear of a horrendous commute five days a week. It would naturally suit some groups of people better than others. For example, older workers – those on which Slim was primarily focused – who might not be ready to fully retire but also want more leisure time. The trend is already moving towards extended working lives, with an ageing population expected to place a heavier burden on the public finances in the coming decades.

As life expectancy rises, it makes economic sense to encourage people to work beyond 65. State pensions won’t be paid out until then anyway. In Britain, future workforces are likely to have to wait until the age of 70 before being eligible for a state pension. But for many people, a three-day working week would not be workable.

Fewer but longer days could cause major childcare problems, or cut people off from social circles. Working an 11 or 12-hour day would not appeal to everyone, leaving many exhausted, depending on line of work and personal situation. There would also potentially be a danger that a three-day week would translate into unpaid overtime for many.

Larger companies with a big workforce would find it easier to reorganise into a three-day week but for smaller companies employing few staff, it would be difficult or impossible to introduce it without hurting productivity and leaving the office or shop floor too thinly spread.

In reality, a sudden leap to such a different way of working would be too big a jump in one go from the current status quo.

But nor should it be dismissed out of hand. The idea of more flexible working is rising up the national agenda and sometimes radical thinking is needed to get the discussion going. Whether you agree with him or not, Carlos Slim was right to bring the debate to the table. It’s always worth thinking again.

Four-day week anyone?

Here at AAT we did some research into what makes employees happy in the workplace. Read the blog post  from our Head of HR. Happiness comes up tops.  

Angela Monaghan is freelance journalist who specialises in writing about business, industry, economics, manufacturing and defence & automotive. Angela has previously worked at The Daily Telegraph and currently writes for The Guardian. This is the second blog  by Angela. The first blog post is  here*We apologise that we didn’t get this up in September, sorry. 


Angela Monaghan is freelance journalist who specialises in writing about business, industry, economics, manufacturing and defence.

Related articles