Four-day working week demanded as 18 million days lost to poor mental health

Andrew Kersley

Campaigners have called on the government to implement a four-day working week to help stop employee burnout after a new report found that nearly 18 million days were lost to stress, depression or anxiety this year.

Research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showed that a record 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related mental health issues in the year 2019/2020, compared to just 12.8 million days lost in the previous year.

In response to the HSE’s findings, the 4 Day Week Campaign has now suggested that to solve the rising levels of lost working hours and employee burnout, British workers need to be given a shorter working week.

Commenting on the new analysis, 4 Day Week Campaign activist Joe Ryle said: “These statistics are shocking and show that the UK desperately needs shorter working hours and a four-day working week to allow workers the time to breathe.

“It’s very worrying that for the first time ever, mental health is now the biggest single cause of work-related ill health and working days lost.

“The four-day working week is popular across the country and it’s time for the government, businesses and the trade unions to work together to make it a reality.”

The report shows that 828,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2019/2020. This is markedly higher than the 602,000 recorded in the previous year.

The HSE also found that 347,000 workers had suffered from a new case of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This year is the first time that both the majority of work-related ill-health and working days lost are caused by mental health.

Among the industries that were found to have the highest rates of stress, depression or anxiety among workers was education, with 2,170 cases per 100,000 workers, and health and social care, with 2,350 cases per 100,000 workers.

The news follows previous research commissioned by the 4 Day Week Campaign, which found that 79% of business leaders are open to the idea of introducing a four-day working week to their companies in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

47% of respondents said they would be “very open” to the idea, which has been trialled by many companies during the pandemic, and a further 32% said they would “quite open” to it. Only 9% said they were “not at all open” to it.

poll earlier this year found that nearly two thirds of the public – including even a majority of Tory voters – thought the government should consider the policy as a way to help cope with coronavirus.

Shadow Employment Secretary Andy McDonald said the UK should be trialling a four-day week during an online event earlier this month, citing benefits to workers’ wellbeing, the climate and the economy as a whole.

He said: “The potential benefits of a four-day week… regarding the importance of non-work time for our mental and physical health, our sense of wellbeing generally and how this would increase productivity, should in my view be increasingly trialled with the introduction of more pilot schemes.”

“And if piloted on a larger scale, it would also enable us to measure other potential reductions in air pollution and overall carbon footprint – obviously vitally important as we seek to address the existential challenges of climate change.”

McDonald suggested that “beleaguered” sectors of the economy, such as arts and hospitality, could benefit hugely from the increased engagement brought about by consumers with more free time.

TUC analysis from last year found that workers in the UK are putting in the longest hours in the EU, at an average of 42 hours each week, despite our productivity lagging behind other European countries.

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