Tomorrow, voters in the US state of Wyoming’s Teton County School District will make a decision that could, its supporters believe, cut large (and much-needed) sums from the state’s education costs. So what, you might think. Who cares about reforms in high schools across the Atlantic? But the question Teton County is putting to its citizens – should its teachers and pupils operate on a four, rather than five-day week – is one that is being asked, and indeed answered, around the world.
Last month in The Gambia, public sector workers began their shiny new four-day working weeks, the new-look office hours having been implemented by President Yahya Jammeh. Their eccentric leader – he once claimed he could cure Aids with herbal medicine – believes that “this new arrangement will allow Gambians to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture – going back to the land and grow what we eat and eat what we grow, for a healthy and wealthy nation”.
In this country, while we might be less keen on praying, farming and Aids-related idiocy, as a whole it seems that we’re also pretty keen on the four-day week too. A recent YouGov poll revealed that 72 per cent of Britons who are currently in employment would choose to work for two more hours each day in exchange for another day off a week.
It’s obviously the holy grail for some workers, not least because the four-day week results in that much desired rarity, the three-day weekend. I notice that the survey didn’t ask whether people would be willing to take a 20 per cent pay cut – perhaps in that instance, the uptake wouldn’t be quite as high as the original survey suggests, though I’m sure that would make it far more popular with employers.
In 2008, the American state of Utah tried a four-day week for its public-sector workers. Although this large-scale experiment eventually faltered because it failed to make as many savings as predicted, in some of the state’s cities, such as Provo, where the four-day week had been in place for a lot longer, it is seen as a success, with staff morale up and spending down.
So more personal time, more money saved by school districts and employers, more time to spend with your children (if you have them, more time to spend in the pub if you don’t) – can the four-day week really be the future? It is for me. From this week onwards, I’ll be joining the ranks of the four-days-good brigade. Unfortunately, there will be no three-day weekend for me, I still need to work on the fifth day (which reminds me, if there are any publishers reading this who are keen to take a punt on a first-time crime novelist/novice historian – call me!). And whether the Teton County School District will be joining me or not, wish me luck.