Momentum for a four-day working week is only growing thanks to a 2022 trial undertaken at 61 UK companies – and there may be a reason more women found it would be beneficial to their productivity than men.
Ever found yourself in your messy kitchen after a long day at the office (book-ended with an uncomfortable commute), and thought, ‘oh no, not this again?’. But instead of asking the person you live with to step up and do their fair share, you simply knuckle down and tidy up.
Or, you may be continually confronted with wet towels strewn across the floors and an overflowing laundry basket – because apparently, you’re the only person who can see that the washing needs to be done.
This all-too-common phenomenon is known as invisible, or emotional labour, aka, ‘the mental activity required to manage or perform the routine tasks necessary for maintaining relationships and ensuring smooth running of a household or process’, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
And it is a burden that disproportionately affects women, with previous analysis from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that ‘in the UK alone, women carry out around 60% more unpaid work than men, spending more time on cooking, cleaning, and childcare’.
So far, so familiar. For Pragya Agarwal, the author of Hysterical: Exploding the Myth of Gendered Emotions, ‘this is due to gendered stereotypes that women are more empathetic or nurturing. They lack the “status shield” – the social protection – that men have to act outside what is expected of their role’.
And of course, this additional workload you never asked for doesn’t stop at your front door. In the workplace, it has been tagged as ‘office housework’.
You know: buying birthday cakes, organising office nights out, or being the point person for the annual Secret Santa.
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A survey of UK employees found that women are nearly three times more likely to be asked to make a cup of tea for their colleagues than men. And even if one woman says no, they’ll just ask another, according to another academic study.
Poor mental health outcomes
While it is frustrating for women to have to bear the brunt of a myriad of extra tasks, it can also have other, more detrimental effects. The British Psychological Society says that ‘unpaid labour is associated with worse mental health for employed women’.
This outcome is depressingly unsurprising, and given the context, it is also not surprising that in a recent survey, 88% of female respondents said they would be more productive working a four-day week, compared to 75% of men.
When it comes to the four-day working week, more than 90% of businesses that participated in the trial opted to continue with it, with 18 adopting it permanently.
The trial was conducted by 4 Day Week, the UK’s national campaign for a four-day, 32-hour working week. It operates on a 100:80:100 model which translates to 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% productivity.
The results of the UK trial go beyond productivity with 4 Day Week reporting that over the trial period, stress and burnout for employees declined, with 71% of employees reporting lower levels of burnout.
Anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues also decreased, while mental and physical health both experienced improvements.
Participants also found it easier to find a work-life balance between work and family and social commitments, and were more satisfied with their household finances, relationships and how their time was being managed.
Those on a four-day week are happier in their jobs too, with companies reporting a 57% decline in the likelihood that an employee would quit, as well as the number of sick days declining by two-thirds.
Better work results for women
Women disproportionately take on the mantle of caring responsibilities, which can often involve care for sick or elderly relatives. This contributes to the fact that part-time work is the most common form of flexible working arrangement for women, according to the Trade Union Congress.
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More than one in three women work part-time, compared to just one in nine men. Women are also more likely to only work during the school year, with nearly 8% working term-time only, compared to 1.8% of men. A four-day working week of 32 hours offers women flexibility and choice.
‘But too often, women pay a heavy financial price for trying to balance their work and caring responsibilities, being forced to drop hours – and lose pay – rather than fork out for extortionate childcare costs,’ says TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
‘Flexible working lets people both work and support their families. It’s how we keep mums in their jobs and close the gender pay gap.’
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