Yet there would be other benefits too. Working less would improve the elusive “work/life balance”, and help to restore our mental health and physical well-being. It would also give us more time to spend on social activities, to care for children and the elderly, and to engage with our communities. Experiments with reduced working hours at select workplaces in Sweden in 2015 reduced sickness and even increased productivity.
Directing gains in economic efficiency towards increased free time and reduced energy consumption, rather than making more stuff, could create a better and more environmentally safe world.
Alex Segre / shutterstock
An obvious objection might be: “How could we afford this?” But there are serious economic and technological reasons for why governments, political parties, think tanks and social movements should all start to think about advocating for the implementation of three-day weekends.
As anthropologist David Graeber has recently contended, many of us work jobs that, at least partially, seem pointless. Indeed, economists have long been aware of the redundant hours contained in many working days, with employees effectively under-utilised in their workplaces, yet unable to leave due to the persistent issue of “presenteeism” – where workers are valued by managers for hours logged in the office rather than productivity. Rather than work longer hours for little productive benefit, we could embrace a shorter working week and help save our planet and our own well-being.
Looking more into the long-term, a new wave of workplace automation featuring advanced robotics and machine learning systems is predicted to replace 47% of current jobs in the US in coming decades, and 54% in Europe. In these circumstances, where there will be significantly less work available, instituting policies such as three-day weekends becomes essential to make life liveable under these changed economic conditions.
As Nick Srnicek and I have argued in our book Inventing the Future, automation will soon offer us the prospect of a very different world of work. More automation would make many production processes more efficient, using less energy and less human labour until, eventually, we are largely freed from work.
The key to capturing the benefits of automation without drastic social dislocation depends in part on developing policies which work to share the gains. This means a reduced working week thanks to an extended weekend, together with a universal basic income.
None of this will happen overnight. But, if you’re in the UK and are lucky enough to have Monday off, don’t forget that extra day at home or in the park is not only fun but will help fight climate change.