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How AI could help us move to a four-day work week

AI Two African engineer using vr Glasses for controlling the robotic welding  arm in the factory production line.
The incorporation of AI tools into workflows may actually give us a better work-life balance. Photo: Getty (Sutthichai Supapornpasupad via Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to transform our lives, affecting how we access medical care, shop, work and more.

Although much of the research into AI has focused on the potential threat of replacement, the incorporation of AI tools into workflows may actually give us a better work-life balance — by allowing businesses to switch to a four-day week.

AI could enable millions of workers to move to a shorter working week by 2033, according to a recent study by thinktank Autonomy.

Projected productivity gains from the introduction of AI could reduce the working week from 40 to 32 hours while maintaining pay. And up to 28% of the workforce — around 8.8 million people in the UK — could benefit from it.

“The integration of AI into the workforce has the potential to pave the way for a four-day work week,” says Natalie Trice, a careers expert. “This is not just about cutting down hours but reimagining productivity.

Read more: Should you use AI to write your cover letter?

“If businesses can maintain or even increase their output with AI’s assistance while reducing the time employees need to spend at work, the shift to a shorter work week becomes viable.”

Automation of routine tasks

AI tools are rapidly changing the workplace by offering time-saving advantages. Not only does this boost productivity, it can also help to foster a more engaged and fulfilled workforce. With AI lined up to help with the mundane, routine tasks, it leaves us more time to focus on other aspects of our jobs.

“The automation of routine tasks by AI, such as data entry and email sorting, allows employees to dedicate more time to complex and creative tasks,” says Trice.

“AI’s role in customer service through chatbots and virtual assistants alleviates the burden on human employees, allowing them to focus on more nuanced customer interactions.

“This shift not only improves customer service quality but also enhances job satisfaction for those who no longer have to deal with repetitive tasks.”

Read more: Will AI make us even lonelier at work?

AI can also automate the writing of basic documents, emails, and reports — surpassing the speed of traditional manual writing.

Delia Bogues, a HR and careers expert, says these tools also excel in condensing extensive reports into succinct summaries.

“Advanced tools, such as Claude, proficiently analyse data, respond to queries, and formulate recommendations based on that analysis, thereby enhancing human decision-making processes,” she explains.

Reduce widespread mental and physical illnesses

Using AI tools to move to a short week may also help reduce stress, burnout and mental health problems among workers.

Studies have found that working more than 40 hours per week is associated with an increased risk of burnout symptoms, including emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

Read more: Will AI make the hiring process fairer – or will it worsen discrimination?

The world’s largest trial of a four-day week — involving 61 companies for six months — came to an end in 2023 with positive results. Although the trial only gave workers one extra day off, the results showed significant benefits on their mental and physical health — and a four-day working week reduced the number of sick days taken by 65%.

Data taken before and after the trial showed that 39% of employees were less stressed at the end of the study and 71% had reduced levels of burnout.

Support working mums

An increasing number of working mothers are being forced out of work due to a lack of flexibility and high childcare costs, but an AI-supported shift to a four-day week could go some way to addressing the problem.

In the Four-Day Week Global study, a total of 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reported combining work with social life easier. The number of staff leaving participating companies also decreased significantly, dropping by 57% over the trial period.

However, Trice adds, there are still challenges to transitioning to a four-day week using AI.

Read more: Four-day weeks to pregnancy rights: What workers could expect to see in 2024

“It requires a cultural shift within organisations, embracing new work models and potentially retraining staff to effectively collaborate with AI systems,” she says.

“Not all industries may find this shift feasible, but for those that can, the benefits — both for the employees and the organisation — could be substantial.”

Watch: Financial Times Associate Editor: We’re in middle of an AI bubble

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