Is the weekend still a relevant concept?

By Matt Tomlin

There has been a selection of articles recently from the likes of The Guardian, Forbes and Big Think calling for a three-day weekend. But is there a case for the weekend to be scrapped and for it to be substituted with more widely dispersed breaks throughout the whole seven-day week? Or, as The Telegraph’s Lucy Mangan wrote in 2016, for the potential for workers to choose days they want to work on? A number of things need to be considered about this potential change in society, including how and when it could be implemented into both today’s workplace and health service.

Arguably, the weekend was never introduced as a way of giving people a fair or necessary break at the end of a long working week. Coming into place in Britain in the nineteenth century, the concept of a weekend began with businesses responding to how, increasingly, workers would use their Sundays for pleasure time and drinking as opposed to the traditional day of religious worship. The trend had been referred to as a ‘week-end’ in a British magazine and the phrase went into circulation in peoples’ conversations following this. Soon, to avoid productivity decreasing on Mondays, when a selection of the workforce taking part in these emerging Sunday activities could have been showing up for work more hungover than usual, businesses moved towards giving workers the latter half of their Saturdays off so that they could be hungover on Sunday instead. Thanks to the Labour movement also, this was later extended to a whole Saturday off from work for many people.

In America, the weekend came about from around 1908 onwards, after a New England mill introduced it as a way of removing disdain by some of the Christian majority towards American Jews, who would replace the hours they took off on a Saturday for Sabbath with work on a Sunday, which was sometimes a looked down upon action. So, in essence, the weekend mostly came about as a tool used to maintain business productivity, implemented by, and serving above all else, the needs of business owners, with the Labour movement having worked alongside to boost the benefits to workers. But now we obviously live in different times where we should be looking, as a modern progressive society, towards regulating our stress and well being levels with more than just the regular weekly, short-lived holiday setup for us by businesses. If we adapted to the leisure time of the weekend, then we can adapt out of it, and innovate further, can’t we?

Sometimes our lives can revolve around the weekend, despite it being the minority of what makes up our week. Everyone reading this probably knows one, and most-likely more than one, person who complains, or has been through a phase, where they complained on the regular during the week about how they couldn’t wait for the weekend. It is also likely that such a person was yourself at one point. A lot of us were probably in that position during our school years. But many of our work schedules don’t need to be bogged down with the majority of work assigned to us Monday to Friday, and a long-desired, lighter two days at the end of the week supposedly for us to be looking forward to.

In 2014, The Atlantic reported on a case where groups of workers switched between a four day weekend and a two day weekend each week. This led to increased productivity, happiness, social proactivity in the workplace and most-likely greater enjoyment of out-of-work activities. This scenario did not involve a decrease in hours worked. In fact, hours worked increased. This article is not going to touch on how much people should work each week, as that is not the focus here, but it is evident that there is potential for much good work to be done for working peoples’ welfare when space is given for free time. A more fluid week without the weekend at the end of it could easily allow for such space and its benefits to our emotional health and motivation to surface.

The other main argument to consider about scrapping the weekend is that, in an ideal world, it would open up healthcare to be equally accessible on all days. This is stated with emphasis on the phrase ‘in an ideal world’. Currently, the decreased number of healthcare services expected of the weekend in the UK are under a large amount of strain due to austerity cuts to the NHS. This puts doubt in proposals made by some politicians to extend GP working hours to cover weekends in the near future. In no way is this article proposing GPs work harder in the current austerity-centric political climate. If the weekend were to be removed as a social construct over time, in an ideal world, those working in the healthcare sector would follow similar routines to those suggested previously, with breaks and work times more widely dispersed throughout the week. Or, considering healthcare workers are needed above most, if not all, other professionals to be alert and able to work, a no-weekend scenario could entail that more doctors and nurses would work, but for less time each in a no-weekend world.

In today’s circumstances, this may seem like a complete fantasy. Such a system would require a major recruitment strategy in order to fill the current jobs gap in the NHS and to recruit more to cover the larger amount of time some NHS services would be operating for. 1 in 11 posts in the NHS are currently vacant due to austerity cuts, and with both uncertainty over Brexit deterring recruitment of and retainment of EU healthcare professionals, and the current government’s visa caps on non-EU workers of all professions – even those within the healthcare sector – there is much work to be done before such a scenario could even be justifiably planned for.

The ways in which the healthcare labour gap could be filled with these visas in place post- Brexit are: to have a soft Brexit, with continued access to the single market and free movement of people, a free trade deal with another country or the implementation of more automation and technology into healthcare to fill roles once held by humans. A soft Brexit may not occur, another free trade deal could take years to accomplish, and may not be as successful in filling NHS job vacancies, and automation will also take years to develop and has many ethical concerns surrounding it. Unfortunately, it would appear in the present day real world, none of the roads lead to sustainable, high quality health care on weekends.

It almost seems like an impossible dream to get an equal seven day scenario. However, given the progress we have made with our services and technology over the past 100 years, even the kinks of Brexit could be ironed out fairly fast. None of us have a crystal ball to inform us of the future economic, social, political or cultural changes which may ensue in the coming months, years, decades or century. So, perhaps, the fantasy land of no weekend could turn out to exist for us in the future, with solutions to the problems listed having been invisible to us previously. Despite it seeming a long way off, and likely an impossibility, there is no harm in putting the theory out there.

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