Aidan Harper is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation and heads up the 4 Day Week campaign. It champions a reduction in working time to encourage better mental health, a fairer society and a more environmentally sustainable economy.
What benefits do you think a four-day week could have on the creative industries?
In terms of wellbeing and mental, these could improve markedly. Within the UK last year, the Health and Safety Executive – the government’s statistic collecting body for work-related illnesses – found that of all sick days lost in the UK last year, one in four of them was a direct result of overwork. We individualise these issues rather than seeing them as a structural problem that we need to change collectively.
Our model of working time is outdated. There is nothing natural or inevitable about the number of hours we spend in work. The absence of statistics only really address people that can’t even be present in the workplace, because their mental health has deteriorated to an extent that they stay home or go to the doctor.
There’s lots of data to show that quality of life deteriorates rapidly as you become more tired and stressed. A creative mind needs to be well-rested, have space to breathe, to experience other things. It needs periods of thinking, imagining, reading fiction or doing sport. Living and experiencing a fuller life feeds a higher quality of work and creates happier workers.
Why do you think there’s so much resistance to the idea?
There’s often a reaction against anything new. What’s interesting is looking at lots of historical newspaper articles critiquing the eight-hour day and the two-day weekend – the arguments haven’t evolved at all. There were worries [about productivity and pay]. The economy certainly hasn’t collapsed, in fact it’s grown in terms of productivity and GDP by many times what we could have ever imagined.
Work ethic has become this new religious drive whereby work is seen as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Doing work and talking about work is seen as an important moral thing. The productive individual is seen as inherently worthwhile. You can see it in the way that people at the top talk about their impossible working schedules – tech CEOs saying they get up at 3am. The design is to show a certain level of self-sacrifice.