President of The GambiaAP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

The President of The Gambia has announced that all public sector workers will move to a four-day week from today. They will now work Monday-Thursday, which will allow them to devote Friday to prayer.

So why has he done this, and will it catch on elsewhere?


Fridays off

According to the BBC, President Yahya Jammeh has argued that the shorter week will allow the population more time for prayer and to tend to their own fields. Most of the 1.8 million population are Muslim, for whom Friday should be devoted to prayer, so this move enables them to follow their religion more strictly.

The move was announced last month, and takes effect today. The four working days will be longer, so there are four days of ten hours each - instead of five days of eight hours.

Jammeh said: "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."

Schools will also close on Fridays, but will be free to open on Saturday to make up for it.

The move has faced its share of criticism. There are those who point out that the rest of the country will work five days a week, but will struggle to achieve anything on Friday if they require government assistance.

But would it ever happen here?

The Gambia is not the first to try this. In 2008 the state of Utah tried an experimental four-day week with some government officials - who worked four ten-hour days in order to cut costs. The experiment lasted three years. During that time there were those who considered it a positive change to their lifestyle, but the state didn't save nearly as much as it had expected to.

In The Netherlands the arrangement is far more common, with one in three men either compressing their 40 hours into four days a week or working part time.

The New Economics Foundation think tank has been saying for years that something similar is inevitable here. It argues that there are several forces pushing us towards a shorter working week: lasting damage to the economy caused by the banking crisis, an increasingly divided society with too much over-work alongside too much unemployment, and an urgent need for deep cuts in environmentally damaging over-consumption.



Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at nef argues for a 21 hour working week, saying: "We'd have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive."

Forward-looking companies in the UK already offer a range of flexible working options, allowing for compressed working weeks, term time working and part time options.

These can make a dramatic difference to people's quality of life - as their working week is just 20% shorter, but their weekend is 50% longer. However, these don't suit every culture or every type of business.

But what do you think, would you want to work a four-day week? Would your employer go for it? Let us know in the comments.



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