A major shift away from the UK's long working hours culture was "inevitable", according to a new report today which called for a radical rethink of arrangements.
The new economics foundation (nef) thinktank said many people were now working longer hours than 30 years ago even though unemployment stood at 2.5 million.
Forces pushing the UK towards a shorter working week included lasting damage to the economy caused by the banking crisis, an increasingly divided society with too much overwork alongside too much unemployment and an urgent need for deep cuts in environmentally damaging over-consumption.
"So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth's natural resources", said Anna Coote, co-author of the report, 21 Hours.
"Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We'd have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours.
"We could even become better employees - less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future."
Andrew Simms, nef policy director, said: "The last two years revealed many to be consuming well beyond our economic means and beyond the limits of the natural environment, yet in ways that also fail to improve our wellbeing.
"Meanwhile many others suffer poverty and hunger. Our research shows that moving to a shorter working week could be the only way left untried to square this seemingly impossible circle. A cultural shift will throw up real challenges, but there could also be massive benefits for our economy, our quality of life and our planet. After all, hands up who wouldn't like a four day weekend?"
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