The covid pandemic and the resurgence of the shorter working week

25 May 2022




Classical authors like Marx and Keynes anticipated a future of radical work-time reductions, built on the benefits of new production technologies. Now, decades later, researchers and campaigners are examining the impact of reducing working time with a diverse set of priorities in mind, from improving citizens’ well-being, to supporting a more sustainable economy and striving for a more equitable distribution of socially necessary labour. The UK Labour government pledged to trial a shorter working week had they won power in the 2019 election, devolved governments in Scotland and Wales are debating the feasibility of national working time reductions, and major international trials of a ‘4 Day Week’ are now underway. The most prominent advocates are referring to the shorter working week as a ‘multi-dividend’ policy. Has the policy’s time finally come?

In this session, we outline early reflections on our research investigating the rapidly-growing number of employer-led experiments with the ‘4 Day Week’, following the Covid pandemic. We ask what motivates firms to trial a shorter working week, outline what this means in practical terms, and pinpoint some initial areas of concern. We also reflect on possible future directions for the policy.


Prof. Brendan Burchell has a longstanding interest in labour market issues and the sociology of work, having led major projects on topics from job quality, to precarious work and unemployment. His recent work on the ‘Employment Dosage Project’ investigated the relationship between well-being and the length of the working week, and was widely reported in the media. Prof. Burchell is currently undertaking a research project with the Digital Futures at Work research centre, looking at the motivations of organisations trialling a shorter working week.

Dr. David Frayne is a sociologist of work, specialising in the future of work, and particularly working-time. His first book, The Refusal of Work, included an empirical study on the values and practices of people who had chosen to work less. David previously worked as a research fellow at New York University, on a project exploring the philosophical dimensions of the future of work, and has also co-managed a major feasibility study on the prospects of a national shorter working week for the Welsh government. He currently works with Brendan Burchell and the Digital Futures of Work research centre, investigating employer-led experiments with the shorter working week.