The Covid19 pandemic has brought about vast unemployment, generating a devastating effect on the economy, and job and financial losses have caused poor mental health. The introduction of a working week of four days paid by the employer and one day by the government, as a type of furlough scheme, provides a way to get the economy back on its feet by generating thousands of new jobs, while simultaneously, enhance the well-being of the whole country.
Good mental health is an essential national asset in its own right, yet, the UK already had a mental health problem before the pandemic; living under continued worry has compounded the problem. The Mental Health Foundation recently surveyed people in full-time work and found over a third were anxious about losing their job. A widespread negative impact on the unemployed found a quarter was not coping well with the pandemic’s stress, almost half were concerned about not having enough food, and one in five had experienced suicidal thoughts – an alarming situation. Poor mental health is closely associated with worse physical health, further affecting the ability to lead fulfilling lives, which adds to the NHS’s pressure.
Tens of thousands of jobs have been cut as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hit the economy with unemployment at 5% for the period September-November 2020 (Office for National Statistics). A total of 591,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in the same period, 10,000 more than the previous quarter and 109,000 than 2019 (House of Commons Library). Nearly 10 million people were furloughed via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme between its start and December 2020, and there is no doubt it has helped many businesses survive. Thankfully, the government extended it to the end of April 2021; however, the UK unemployment is likely to reach 2.6 million, equivalent to 7.5% of the working-age population when it finishes (Office for Budget Responsibility). The Bank of England made a similar prediction of 7.7% but suggested it could raise as high as a staggering 10%.
The majority of people in full-time employment are working five days a week, an average of eight hours a day. Yet, longer hours do not necessarily equate to efficiency. Being tired, stressed, or depressed means performance suffers from low productivity. Crucially, working less, such as this idea suggests in a four day week, has many psychological benefits in a life-work balance that reduces stress and anxiety, which, in turn, improves physical and mental health overall. Workers are happier and less likely to take time off sick. Having more time to spend with our loved ones generates better relationships by giving them more energy. A free day could be spent in a meaningful way for the individual, such as within the community, supporting each other to create a positive environment for everyone involved (PensionBee, 2020). Or a parent working full-time could spend a day with their child without needing to find or pay for childcare.
A four-day working week may sound radical, but this idea could work in both the public and private sectors to get the economy back on its feet by generating thousands of new jobs. Introducing a working week consisting of four days paid by the employer, and one day by the government (possibly at 80% furloughed) would mean a new full-time position created for someone currently unemployed for every four people in full-time employment. Unemployment would be significantly reduced, and having a sense of purpose by working, would bring good mental health and well-being, which could ease pressure on the NHS. A new employee working the non-working day of the four existing employees would mean the employer pays five employees for 20 days worked in one week, and the government pays for the five days off (see attached diagram). However, more taxes would be brought into the treasury because all five employees would be paying tax and national insurance on both the four days worked paid by the employer, and the one day paid via the government. Additionally, the new employee would not be claiming any unemployment benefits and employers liability national insurance paid for every additional new employee.
Nobody wants to live through something like this pandemic ever again. Still, having one in four extra people in the workplace means extra employee sufficiency to cope in a similar situation. Indeed, NHS staff would be able to recuperate one day a week following the mental draining of working throughout the pandemic. Additionally, all five employees could be called upon to help at times of pressure such as within the winter months to work the government paid day off for a short period when demand was high, which would be paid by the employer.
It’s a win, win situation for the government, employers and employees, both new and old, while simultaneously enhancing the working population’s well-being.