Research finds 87% of Scottish Government staff want a four-day week

Think tank says shorter working week would boost productivity and help retention and recruitment
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon Credit: PA

By Jim Dunton

02 Aug 2021

Scottish Government staff are overwhelmingly in favour of the introduction of a four-day working week, according to a scoping project undertaken by think tank Autonomy that gauged the views of 2,000 officials.

The research, which was supported by civil service union PCS, suggested that the move would boost productivity to such an extent that many business areas within the Scottish Government would not have to employ new staff.  

It found 87% of officials believed the Scottish Government should pilot four-day week working across all areas of its operations, while 84% of respondents said they believed they could adapt their current work processes to suit a shorter working week.

PCS said the report also demonstrated “clear, perceived benefits” for the Scottish Government – including better retention and recruitment of staff, being seen as a pioneer in setting new working-time standards, and having a healthier workforce.

The report found respondents’ underlying reasons for supporting a shorter working week revolved around a lack of free time outside of work to undertake caring responsibilities, community work or personal development activities.

PCS national officer Cat Boyd said the Covid-19 pandemic had shown that people were able to work in ways many employers claimed weren’t possible before.

“Through this project, Scottish Government staff are making it clear that the future can be different, that it can be better for workers, employers, the economy and the environment,” she said.

“The Scottish Government should now lead the way on the four-day week by working with PCS to make these possibilities into realities.”

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said the report demonstrated the “wide breadth of support” present for a four-day week across the Scottish Government.

“The SNP already have a national-level pilot planned but there is now a strong case for expanding this to include government workers,” he said. “The four-day week is an idea whose time has come.”

Autonomy acknowledged that switching to a four-day week would require certain barriers to be overcome, including investment in labour-saving technology and a shared commitment across the government to reduce the number of meetings in the working day – or their duration.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that while consideration was being given to the impact a shorter working week for staff would have, the Autonomy research had been “led entirely by PCS” and did not represent a commitment from ministers.

They said that Autonomy accepted that better productivity would not be enough to offset reduced working time that a four-day week would involve in all areas, and that the report estimated necessary staff increases across the wider Scottish public sector  would cost between £1.4bn and £2bn, equivalent to around 3% of the public sector paybill.

“The report acknowledges this is complex and requires detailed consideration and staff engagement to ensure it could achieve the outcomes being sought and continue to deliver a high-quality service to the people of Scotland,” the spokesperson said.

“There are clearly many significant policy and practical issues which require to be considered given the complex variety of roles undertaken within Scottish Government and its agencies, including the potential need for additional staff acknowledged in the report. We will continue to work with trades unions and ministers on evaluating the potential for a shorter working week.”

In May, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to help companies pilot a four-day working week to explore whether changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic could improve wellbeing and productivity in the long term.

The Scottish Government’s Fair Work Directorate is leading on the issue.

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