It turns out that most people in the UK are now working fewer hours, but are also spending less time on leisure compared to the 1970s.
The Resolution Foundation, an independent UK think tank focused on improving the standard of living of low and middle income families, has studied changes in working time in the period since 1974. Last month, it published the results. The key statistics show differences between working time in 1974 and working time in 2014-2015.
In comparison to 1974:
- men and women are taking on a more equal share of paid and unpaid work;
- in households in the top income quartile, men’s paid working time has changed very little whereas paid working time for women in this quartile has significantly increased;
- in households in the lowest income quartile, women’s paid working time has decreased and men are also working three hours fewer a day; and
- the only demographic group with more leisure time is low income men.
What do these statistics mean in terms of the bigger picture? On the one hand, they show some progress on gender equality since 1974 as men and women are taking on a more equal share of paid work. However, this study only shows progress in terms of working time, and not on working pay. The gender pay gap persists, while the working time gap closes.
Working time has levelled out more for households in the top income quartile, whereas households in the lower income quartile are working less. Several policymakers have called for a four-day working week, which would result in a reduction of working time hours. It is evident that such a proposal may not support lower income households which may actually wish to increase their working hours or, at least, prevent a further reduction.
In addition, leisure time has actually decreased for all demographic groups except low income men. Both men and women spend more time on unpaid work, such as childcare. However, women still do more unpaid work than men.
The Foundation’s report suggests that two-thirds of working people would like more leisure time. This may seem like support for a four-day working week but the statistics clearly demonstrate that less working time does not necessarily mean more leisure time.
The Foundation’s survey also found that respondents valued control over the timing of their work, rather than a reduction in work. Employees would much rather have greater flexibility than fewer working hours. This is good news for employers – employees do want to work, just a little more flexibly. Common employee complaints around, for example, short-notice changes to shifts, a lack of flexibility around time off and large workload deadlines should still be taken seriously to boost retention and increase morale.
This, of course, ties in with the fact that employers are already seeing more flexible working requests, given the home working which was enforced for many employees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The full report can be found here.