You know that feeling you get when you notice something that’s just a bit…off? When something just doesn’t make sense? I noticed something like that the other day, but I’m not the best at maths so I got my calculator out, just to check. As it turned out, my instinct was right. Despite the conventional collective wisdom of the illustrious Oxford University, of schools up and down the land, and of the entire corporate world; despite the mass agreement of centuries of human history; despite the concord across nations who agree on little else, I knew I was right. I had had a revelation:
7 ÷ 2 ≠ 5
And that’s interesting, because I, just like virtually everyone else, was brought up believing that there are two parts to the week: the working week and the weekend. And since pretty much everyone believes that these are of (at least) equal value to the condition of humanity, you’d imagine that these would be weighted equally. Please stop me if I’m sounding ignorant, but the logic seems to check out so far, right?
So seven days in the week (fact), divided by two parts (fact) somehow equals 5 and 2? Again, I’m no mathematician, but my calculator tells me that the maths doesn’t work there, and I’m inclined to trust it. How did we come to this mass delusion? How did we land on the moon, sequence the genome, make the cultural masterpiece Shrek, and discover ever smaller building blocks of matter before we realised that 7 divided by 2 doesn’t equal 5?
Forgive me for my hubris, pardon me for challenging the wisdom of the elders, who have consistently proved themselves with such intelligent decisions, such as creating an economy based on the never-ending resources of oil and coal, and the simplicity of solving the world’s conflicts by drawing geometric lines on the map. Excuse my audacity, but isn’t 7 divided by 2 more like 3.5?
Dividing a week into half days sounds inconvenient, so to my ignorant, uneducated mind the obvious solution is to make that 4 and 3, and if soothing the pride of a declining capitalist system necessitates making that 4 working days, and 3 days weekend, then so be it.
How then, have we reached the grand old year of 2024 still operating on such an archaic model of the 5 day work week? To demonstrate how ridiculous it is as a concept, I will ask you a question.
Would you wish to go back to the model of 6 days’ work, with a rest day on which you have to participate in community activities like organised religion? Does that sound like a good idea to you?
No? Then how about this–we adopt the calendar of the French Revolution, when, to try and make time metric, they adopted a week of ten days, with only one day a weekend. Is this a model you’d like to use?
Still no? In which case, why? Why do we see these models as ludicrous or medieval? The answer is simple: they don’t provide sufficient rest for most people to work, or indeed simply live, at their best.
If we’ve accepted that one day off is silly, why is it so hard to see that two is also clearly insufficient? Column writers in major newspapers blame millennials and Gen Z for a variety of broadly made-up terms like ‘quiet quitting’ and ponder why so many desire hybrid or remote working, while failing to see that obviously, obviously, the answer is that two days off (for those that have the luxury of weekends) is not enough.
Office yoga is unnecessary, meditation apps are not the way forward, both are sticking plasters on the Titanic that provide only an aesthetic fix that companies can point to when challenged–the only viable solution is changing to a four-day workweek. Instead, we have reactionary corporations unwilling to be the first one to make the move, and ‘grindset’ influencers who romanticise an unsustainable level of work that will only lead to a marginally faster promotion (perhaps) and a host of long term health issues.
When the architects of the Industrial Revolution look progressive, you know something has gone wrong, but on this occasion, the philanthropists had the right principle. When Lever, Cadbury, Salt and Owen built model villages for their workers, they realised that the best trait in a worker was health. Health led to enthusiasm, enthusiasm led to productivity, and productivity led to profit. No matter the vast sums they spent on radically changing the workspace by building these villages, their profits continued to increase, and that really shouldn’t be surprising–a company’s greatest asset is always, always, its workforce.
Why has no company adopted the same sort of strategy now? How many consultants do they need to employ to tell them that the single best thing they can do for their firm is to introduce a four day week? While the health issues at play this century are chiefly mental, the same principle applies as when Lever ensured his workers weren’t living in polluted air, and had access to basic hygiene facilities and green spaces. If worker productivity is adversely affected by burnout, depression, and the physical health issues that are derivative from over-working, then it doesn’t take a genius to see that the workers would be better off by working less.
This isn’t some PhD-level sociological analysis, it’s basic common sense that even the titans of late-Victorian capitalism could see–how is it still a controversial issue today? How long will it take us as a society to drop our fetishisation of work, to prioritise our own health, and as a bonus side effect, increase productivity as well?
I would like to emphasise this argument with some more maths. There are three main aims for a weekend:
1. Rest: pure, unadulterated chilling. Watching shows, having a lie in, recharging.
2. Tasks: catching up with those little tasks that you’ve been putting off. Cleaning the gutters, washing windows, tidying your desk, checking insurance etc. Boring, but necessary, and there’s no time to do this during the week.
3. Hobbies: seeing friends, playing sport, band practice, church, whatever it is that you enjoy doing outside work.
Now three tasks, each of which needs pretty much a full day to do properly, does not fit into a two day weekend. It does fit into a three day weekend. Q.E.D., or whatever.
In the current system, one of these has to be neglected, each with bad consequences. Neglect rest and you end up very quickly burning out and having health issues. Neglect general life tasks and you end up living in a tip and missing admin that will cause you issues down the line. Neglect hobbies and your mental health will suffer enormously.
It is this last one which I want to emphasise most, since I think it speaks most about the issues with modern society. My impression is that faced with the impossible task of fitting three into two it is the hobbies of life that most people neglect, and this has come at great societal cost.
Obviously I’m not arguing that the entire mental health epidemic is due to the decline of hobbies, but I think it plays a large part. It is difficult to be fully satisfied with life when you only work and perform the tasks necessary to stay alive without the break to do things that are simply enjoyable- that is no way to live. Considering hobbies are the principal form of socialisation for many people, and are great ways to meet new people, can we really be surprised that loneliness among young people is on the rise?
The societal emphasis on productivity, to the extent that we’ve developed the notion that your free time must be economically productive as well (side hustle culture) is absolutely wrong, and removes the basic human joy of doing fundamentally unproductive things like art, music, writing, sport, reading for fun, cooking, whatever your ‘thing’ is. There’s a reason why these activities, which are entirely economically useless, are so heavily emphasised at school and university, there’s a reason why we collectively distract ourselves from our degrees with literally hundreds of different societies, there’s something beautifully human about doing things for the sake of doing them, for fun and nothing else.
There are better ways of defining productivity than pure profit calculations on a spreadsheet.
Activities like sports clubs, book clubs, and religious centres tie our communities together, but our society is becoming ever more individual, at the cost of the community feeling that limits feelings of loneliness, that can protect people from sudden hard times, that is the strongest force at overcoming differences between people. It is no coincidence that the happiest places have the most active communities, whether that be a close-knit village or a thriving area of London.
Thus, the adoption of a three-day weekend will, by allowing people to re-engage with their hobbies and communities without guilt or neglecting rest, have profound and positive ripple effects across not just the economy, but our society as well.
One simple change, one obvious change, can have beneficial consequences for health, communities, and productivity.
You may think this a very utopian, lyrical view, and you may well be justified. But the only way to find out is to test it. And call me utopian all you like, but I’m not the one who believes that seven divided by two is five.