Britons are the most enthusiastic from the seven nations surveyed
In September last year the TUC caused a national discussion by calling for a shift to a four day working week. The trade union argued that the benefits of technology were being hoarded by bosses and shareholders in the form of greater efficiency, rather than being passed on to workers in the form of less time spent at work.
A four day working week in the UK may not be so far from reality. The Labour party has reportedly reached out to an economist asking heading an independent inquiry into the feasibility of a shorter working week.
Now a new YouGov Eurotrack survey has found that there is support across all seven countries that make up the study for introducing a four day working week. The most enthusiastic are the Finns, on 65%, followed by the Swedes and Britons, both on 63%.
Support was lowest in Norway, at 47% - although still higher than the 36% of Norwegians who would oppose a four day working week. In France, 51% of people would back a four day working week, as would 54% of Germans.
However, support falls off substantially if a four day week were to shrink the national economy and leave people worse off financially. Under these circumstances, only 17-26% of people would support making the shift.
This naturally raises the question: do people expect that moving to a four day working week would be economically damaging?
Here the picture is far more mixed, with opinion differing from country to country, and people in each nation being heavily split.
Britons are the most optimistic – 31% believe that a four day week would make the nation more prosperous, compared to 34% who think it would make no difference and 19% who think it would make us less prosperous. While a similar proportion of Finns think a four day work week would increase prosperity (29%) they are more likely than Brits to think it would decrease it (27%).
The least convinced of the economic benefits of a four day work week are the Germans and Norwegians, with only 13% in each country thinking it would boost prosperity and 35-38% thinking it would make their home countries less prosperous.
Across the board, Europeans are more likely to think that shifting to a shorter week would increase productivity. Britons are especially so, with 45% thinking it would make the country more productive – only 21% think the opposite.
Once again the Norwegians are the most pessimistic, with 37% believing that a four day work week would damage their national productivity, compared to only 28% who think it would boost it. They are alone among the nations in being more likely to expect a bad outcome than a good one.
Part of the reason some economists push for a four day working week is that they believe happiness and productivity are linked: the happier someone is, the more productive they are.
When it comes to whether or not a four day working week might make people happier, it is once again Britain where people are most likely to see the benefits. More than seven in ten Britons (71%) think that the nation would be happier as a result of having an extra day off – only 15% think it would make no difference and a mere 5% think we would all be less happy as a result.
Likewise, the Norwegians are the most circumspect – although here too the most common answer by far (45%) is the country would be happier as a result. Instead, almost a third (32%) think it would make no difference, and 12% think they would be unhappier.
Britons are becoming increasingly convinced of the benefits of a four day working week
Attitudes in Britain have warmed substantially towards the prospect of a four day working week in the last few years. For instance, while in April 2014 Britons were close to evenly split on whether a shorter working week would be more (37%) or less (33%) productive, that gap is now 24 percentage points wide, with 45% thinking it would be more productive and only 21% less.
Similarly, the proportion of Brits who think a four day working week would make us more prosperous has increased from 26% to 31%, while the number who think it would leave us worse off has fallen from 32% to 19%.
Intriguingly, attitudes on how happy it would make us as a nation have remained virtually identical, meaning some force has moved to convince Britons specifically of the purely economic benefits of a shorter work week during that time.