Four-day week law could prevent ‘culture of burnout’ at charities, say campaigners

13 Jun 2023 News

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Charities and think tanks have urged the government to amend existing law to reduce the maximum working weekly hours from 48 to 32 by 2030.

In a joint manifesto launched today, Autonomy, New Economics Foundation and Common Wealth joined the 4 Day Week Campaign in calling for the implementation of a number of policies to ensure the transition to a four-day week across the economy.

Speaking to Civil Society ahead of the launch, 4 Day Week Campaign director Joe Ryle said a change to working patterns was particularly important for the charity sector, which is prone to “a creeping culture of burnout”.

It comes after the world’s largest four-day week trial was piloted in the UK between June and December last year by 61 organisations, including about seven charities and around 2,900 workers. 

Participating organisations were not required to rigidly deploy a specific type of reduced working pattern or four-day week as long as they maintained pay at 100% and offered their staff a “meaningful” reduction in work time. 

‘Overwork, burnout and stress’ 

Recently speaking to Civil Society, Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said that long working hours in the UK are an “acute problem” and produce “a culture of overwork, burnout and stress”.

He added: “A four-day week is really important for the charity and non-governmental organisation sector. The reason for that is that it’s often the type of work where people believe passionately in it and in the cause and, unfortunately, that can lead to a creeping culture of burnout. 

“They feel like they need to go above and beyond because they believe passionately in their work and that’s not an effective way of working. I think that charities and NGOs would be a lot more effective if they had a better work-life balance, living a better life in that way. It’s really important for the sector that they take a four-day week seriously.”

Manifesto launch

In their manifesto, the organisations called for the introduction of a bill to amend the Working Time Regulations 1998 to cut the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 hours “across a phase-in period of five years, or a full parliamentary term”.

The bill should also have “a clause to ensure any work beyond 32 hours is paid at an overtime rate of 1.5 times a worker’s ordinary pay”, the manifesto says. 

Official flexible working guidance should be reviewed so that workers have the right to request a 32-hour working week with no loss of pay, it reads. 

The organisations would like to see a £100m fund to support companies, notably in service industries, transitioning to a shorter working week. 

In addition, they called for a fully funded four-day week pilot in the public sector and the creation of a working time council bringing together trade unions and industry and business leaders to “coordinate on policy and implementation of a shorter working week”. 

Four-day week is ‘future of work’

Last year, Labour MP Peter Dowd tabled a bill to amend the Working Time Regulations 1998 “to reduce the maximum working week from 48 hours per week to 32 hours per week and to provide for overtime pay; and for connected purposes”.

At the time, Dowd said that the current working model “no longer reflects the needs of the modern world”.

Commenting on the manifesto launch, he said: “With the rollout of artificial intelligence on the horizon, a shorter working week is looking more and more inevitable.

“Greater productivity in the economy as a result of new technology must be passed back to workers in more free leisure time. A four-day week is the future of work and I urge my party to back these policies.”

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, added: “Overwork, burnout and mental health issues are far too common in this country so a four-day week is desperately needed.

“Elections are often won by parties of the centre-left when they paint a vivid image of a brighter future. A four-day week, now more likely than ever, is crucial part of this composition.”

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