State should eliminate Friday from our working week


In a time of cutbacks and savings, everyone would gain if the last workday was abolished

IN BRITAIN they are cutting about one million jobs. In France, they have axed the Bastille Day garden party. All governments are looking for ways big and small to cut spending. But there is a better way that no one has yet considered: cut Fridays.

By making Thursday the last day of the working week, 20 per cent would be cut off the wage bill, yet, miraculously, productivity would hardly fall.

The seed for this beautifully simple idea was sown in my mind quite unexpectedly. I was reading random news items on the BBC website when I came upon a survey conducted by Debenhams, the UK retailer, showing how much trouble people take over their appearance in the mornings.

On Mondays, the average woman spends 72 minutes blow-drying her hair, applying make-up and deciding on the right outfit. By Tuesday, she is a little less meticulous and, by Friday, she only spends 19 minutes getting herself ready. For men the pattern is similar. He spends 28 minutes on Monday but only 11 on Friday.

The first shock is the sheer amount of pre-work grooming that appears to be going on. My morning routine – a considerably more elaborate affair than it used to be – takes rather less long than the average man spends on his most slap-dash day. This suggests either that I could improve still further, or that the survey was relying on a sample group composed of Cheryl Cole, Lady Gaga and David Beckham.

More interesting than the amount of time, however, is the distribution. We start every week eager to put our best, well-shod foot forward, but four days later have lost heart and are practically pitching up to work in bin-liners. If this attitude to grooming is mirrored in our attitude to work, then the current pattern of working five days a week is clearly not the right one.

I have tried to marshall some facts but found no recent studies on how productivity varies over the week. All I could find was a survey of cotton-pickers in 1922 showing that Monday output was a bit depressed, as workers had got out of the swing of cotton-picking over the weekend. It improved midweek, only to slump to its lowest level on Friday.

The same pattern is borne out by a scantier poll from Accountemps, the US employment agency. Office workers were asked on which day of the week they got most work done. Most said Tuesday was the most productive; only 3 per cent said Friday.

Maybe the absence of proper numbers doesn’t matter: we know the answer anyway. We work badly on Friday because we are tired and because we are demob happy before the weekend.

Like many women with children, I’ve been living the new model for years. At first, adapting was strange: the week felt like a stool with one of its legs removed. But then I became more efficient. Parkinson’s Law did its magic.

The pattern of four days rather than five feels better, happier and more natural. It is perfectly possible to work relatively hard for four days at a stretch – there is no temptation to shift Friday’s sloppiness onto Thursday instead. In fact, on Thursdays, I enjoy what the productivity theorists call an “end spurt” trying to get things finished before the lovely, long weekend.

There are all sorts of other advantages to the new pattern. There is less temptation to skive or to pretend to be ill. And, to the extent to which one is happier, there is less temptation to engage in pointless, expensive job hopping.

These benefits were remarked upon a long time ago; what is surprising is that no one has taken note. In 1930, WK Kellogg decided to cut the working week of his cornflake makers from 40 to 30 hours. He declared: “The efficiency and morale of our employees is so increased, the accident and insurance rates are so improved, that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight.”

Messing with the days of the week has been done before – without much success. In 1929, Stalin tried to abolish the weekend, but the problem then was that he was trying to move the goal posts the wrong way. He was forgetting that humans and machines are rather different.

The hunter-gatherer knew better than Stalin what was what, and only worked about two-and-a-half days a week to feed his family. But he was only working to get food.

Had he also been trying to pay the mortgage and save for an iPad, he might have found that the rhythm of Monday to Thursday suited him down to the ground. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010)