Why the Perpetual Guardian four-day week story has struck a chord around the world
The Perpetual Guardian four-day week story has reached over four billion people across the globe, and kick-started conversations about the world of work as it is today, from the individual worker’s perspective right up to government level.
I believe the four-day week has struck a chord not only because it is, in my opinion, the right thing to do, but also the right time. Here is why.
What statistical data and anecdotal evidence are telling us is that work today, with employers’ ‘always on’ expectation and the reluctance or inability of workers to escape the reach of technology, is not just too much of a good thing – it is making us sick.
As workdays are stretched by brutal commutes which deprive people of rest, family time and social time, the workplace itself has been identified as a common cause and an intensifier of mental illness.
In the UK, work-related stress, anxiety or depression now accounts for 57 percent of all working days lost to ill health. The Society of Occupational Medicine reports that each year, about 400,000 UK workers report illness which they attribute to work-related stress. In 2017-18, 15.4 million working days were lost to mental illness connected with work, up from 12.5 million the previous year, and racking up a lost output cost to employers and self-employed people of between £33.4 and £43.0 billion per year, and lost tax or national insurance revenue of between £10.8 and £14.4 billion per year.
These statistics are not isolated but are broadly representative of what we are seeing in much of the world; a New Zealand Listener story on workplace depression and anxiety cited a 2016 London School of Economics study of eight countries (including the US, Mexico and Japan) which “examined the effect of depression on the workplace and the costs associated with both absenteeism and presenteeism (when you are at work but not functioning at your normal level). [The researcher] found it was a considerable issue for all the countries, regardless of their economic development, and collectively it was costing $246 billion a year.”
The causes of mental health problems initiated or exacerbated by work are generally well understood. The World Health Organisation identifies work-related risk factors for health as inadequate health and safety policies; poor communication and management practices; low levels of support for employees; inflexible working hours; unclear tasks or organisation objectives; and low control over one’s area of work. WHO notes that unsuitable tasks for the worker’s competencies or a high and unrelenting workload constitute risks, and that bullying and psychological harassment are commonly reported causes of work-related stress and consequent psychological and physical problems.
A large study of nearly 70,000 mid-life workers by the Black Dog Institute bears this out, finding “people experiencing higher job demands, lower job control and more job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50, regardless of sex or occupation.”
If we were to freeze-frame the world of work as it is today, the picture would be one of enormous economic output at an equally vast human and environmental cost. People are arguably more connected to work – and in many cases over-worked – than they have ever been, and weightier workloads are having a crushing effect. Meanwhile, individual productivity is affected by workplace structures which reward presenteeism, not output, and by the macroeconomic influences driving up commuting times and separating families for nearly all of the day’s waking hours. Some power, at least, must be in the hands of workers – so what are they trying to do about it?
I believe we are on the cusp of a new era of work. It is now up to each and every one of us to see what that looks like. Already, the standard is being set by business, political and labour leaders who are calling for change, such as the Trades Union Congress and the Green Party in the UK, which are pushing for the government to back a four-day week.
If you would like to read more about the findings of the four-day week trial at Perpetual Guardian, I suggest reading the free white paper on www.4dayweek.com.
- Andrew Barnes