Claire Elbrow of Blue Lizard Marketing. Picture: FLOK Marketing
While the advance of AI, automation and robotics sometimes evokes fears of mechanised armies and widespread unemployment, according to the TUC, there should be a sunny upside for us mere mortals – a shorter working week and higher pay.
Government and businesses estimate that new technologies could boost UK GDP by at least £200bn in the next decade.
But according to a new report from the TUC, most UK workers (51%) expect that the benefits of new technology will be hoarded by managers and shareholders, rather than shared fairly between managers, shareholders and ordinary workers (34%).
The TUC says that the government must act now to make sure workers share in these gains, by raising workers’ living standards and giving them more control at work.
Full time workers in the UK put in some of the longest hours in the EU, behind only Austria and Greece, and racking up £32bn in f unpaid overtime. New analysis in the report shows that the number of people working all seven days of the week has now reached more than 1.4 million.
Reducing working time is a way to share the gains of increased prosperity. Eight in ten workers (81%) want to reduce working time in the future – with 45% of workers opting for a four-day working week, without loss of pay, as new tech makes work more efficient.
The TUC says the UK should consider how to move to a four-day week over the course of this century.
However, employers in the East of England have a long way to go to make this happen; men in our region work some of the longest hours in the UK, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, coming in behind Northern Ireland with an average of 37.5 hours a week. Likewise, the region’s women work the third longest number of hours every week, behind London and Northern Ireland.
Chris Bayfield, who runs Bayfields Digital in Wickham Market, feels that technological advances have had the reverse effect, as he is instead tied to his business 365 days a year. “Smart phones are great but you’ve got all your available means of contact in your pocket at all times – employed people can switch off out of hours more easily,” he said.
But freelance marketing specialist Claire Elbrow believes that being her own boss makes her more productive, which enables her to take Fridays off when she needs to. “I quickly realised that what I did in 5 days at employed work, I could do in three when working my own hours,” she said. “The increase in productivity was very clear, along with reduced stress, no commuting and my salary increased because I could get more done in my week.
“I think as we start to hit the next generation of workers, they will dictate their working hours more than they are dictated to. Four days and an increased and wise use of technology would allow companies to continue to grow and keep their potential and digitally native talent pool happy. There is no reason that a good number of companies cannot work like freelancers work, using the very able technology around. It’s just a mindset thing – a bit like online shopping!”
Talk to explore issue
The coach and professional speaker Mandie Holgate will be exploring the topic of the ‘Four day Week’ at an event on Time Management on September 20 in Natwest on Colchester Business Park.
She has also written a book, Fight the Fear, which looks at the 12 biggest fears that affect success.
“Interestingly, many of those impact on time management - too many people are busy, not effective,” she said.
“I work four days a week and I think it has masses of benefits, including increased productivity in line with our love of tech and reduced stress as well.
“However, I am sure there are members at the Business Womans Network who would say it would make life difficult financially, because not many (companies) would keep salaries the same for reduced hours.”
Ms Holgate explained that because of having lupus, she “learned the hard way” to structure her time.
“I can’t be a slave to my business, or I end up in hospital. I can now turn my phone off for up to 24 days and come back to growth in every area of my business, and not damage my physical or mental health.”
A difficult change to make
However, in some industries, a four-day-week is more difficult to introduce.
Steve Collins, the director of Fargo Systems, believes in the logistic sector, a four-day week “may prove impossible to implement.”
“Facilitating a move to a four-day week would require an increase of staffing levels and, in an industry with tight margins and downward cost pressure, I don’t believe it will be achievable or practical,” he said.