10 July 2014

The right to request flexible working is a good thing, the head of the UK's Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has said, but allowing people to work a four-day week would be even better.

Professor John Ashton said that a balance should be sought between employees working very long hours and those who want to get into work. Furthermore, a four-day week would give people more scope to volunteer in their local communities.

"The practicalities of implementing such a policy would be complex," he continued, "not least because of the high cost of living that prohibits many people from working fewer hours. Nevertheless, it is important that we have a working pattern that is good for our health as well as our economy and wider society."

Switching to a four-day week would not only help to reduce unemployment, the Professor argued, but would also combat high levels of work-related stress.

Having a five-day week as the norm contributes to what he called "a maldistribution of work" that is damaging many people's health and he told The Guardian that it should be phased out.

Professor Ashton, who leads the UK's 3300 public-health experts working in the NHS, local government and academia, said that having a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that have no jobs is illogical.

"A four-day week is viable," he said. "We need an ambition in the next 10 to 20 years to move to that on a European level. We've had the European Working Time Directive. Why couldn't we have the ambition to move to a four-day week?"

From Paul Clarke, business writer for Croner