What is a week?

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In the UK and several other countries, research institutes and companies are trying out different ways of working. One such project is the trial run of a four day week instead of the traditional five. Below you find an adaptation of the text from The Guardian, supplemented with a little gap-filling exercise.

One of the research institutes involved in this project is the thinktank Autonomy. On their website you find a little video titled Change the Week.

This video is just a few minutes long and the narration fairly slow (so no subtitles needed for learners of English). Before watching, look at the few pre-listening questions and try to answer those you might have an idea about. Some of the questions might seem strange, like asking what color red is. But sometimes it can be interesting to think about things, words and concepts whose meanings we take for granted and never stop to think about. So let’s think about the week for a moment:

In the video, the question is raised what a week actually is, or rather, what it relates to in reality. We all know the concept of a year and what natural phenomenon underlies it; same for a month or day. But a week?

(Someone said, it comes from the seven days creation story of the Christian Old Testament, however, further research reveals that to be untrue. See ‘Origins of the Days of the Week’ *)

Some pre-listening questions (most of which are related to the video to be answered after listening, but think about them a little before watching):

The Week

  1. Define: What is a year, a month, a day, a week?
  2. What is a ‘weekend’?
  3. Is the length of the week universal i.e. the same in all cultures?
  4. When was the five day working week ‘invented’?
  5. What does research say when it comes to productivity: what kinds of work structures produce the best results?
  6. How much do American adults spend a year on work travel?
  7. What are some of the benefits of a four day week according to the Harvard Business Review mentioned in the video?
  8. Do countries in which employees work fewer (than 40) hours have a lower or higher GDP?
  9. How long is the working week in the Netherlands?
  10. Find the numbers in the video: 75; 1.4; 5000; 1.8; 6000; 29

Now listen to: Change the Week

The world of work has changed: we need to embrace it! Governments, multinational firms, small start ups and trade unions around the world are waking up to a powerful but simple idea: we should work less to work better.

For the environment, for the quality of work produced, for gender equality and most importantly: for ourselves.

(* The seven-day week originates from the calendar of the Babylonians, which in turn is based on a Sumerian calendar dated to 21st-century B.C. Seven days corresponds to the time it takes for a moon to transition between each phase: full, waning half, new and waxing half. Because the moon cycle is 29.53 days long, the Babylonians would insert one or two days into the final week of each month.)

Lesson activity for text:

Thousands of UK workers begin world’s biggest trial of four-day week

With work changed for ever by the pandemic, businesses are testing whether pilot represents a recognition that ‘the new frontier for competition is quality of life’

Put the text passages below back into the text

  1. and researchers
  2. on the 100:80:100 model
  3. of the not-for-profit group
  4. ranging from a local chippy to large financial firms
  5. is participating
  6. respond
  7. As we emerge
  8. is going to be higher
  9. we were going to be working less hours
  10. the wellbeing of its workers
  11. is the vehicle to give them
  12. embrace the four-day week
  13. involved

More than 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies,  _____________, start working a four-day week from Monday with no loss of pay in the world’s biggest trial of the new working pattern.

The pilot is running for six months and is being organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, __________________at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

The trial is based_________________– 100% of pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity.

Platten’s Fish and Chips in Wells-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast_______________, along with the Sheffield software firm Rivelin Robotics, the London-based inheritance tax specialists Stellar Asset Management, and Charity Bank in Tonbridge, Kent.

Joe O’Connor, chief executive __________________4 Day Week Global, said the UK was at the crest of the four-day week wave: _________________from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working ____________________a competitive edge.”

Some of the other companies ___________________ provide education, workplace consultancy, housing, skincare, building and construction recruitment services, food and beverages, and digital marketing.

Researchers will work with each participating organisation to measure the impact on productivity in the business and _____________________, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

Government-backed four-day week trials are also due to begin later this year in Spain and Scotland.

Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the pilot, described it as a “historic trial”. “We’ll be analysing how employees _____________________ to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life,” she said.

“The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple-dividend policy – helping employees, companies, and the climate. Our research efforts will be digging into all of this.”

Wyatt Watts, 25, team leader at Platten’s Fish and Chips, said: “When I first heard ____________________with the same pay, I thought to myself, ‘What’s the catch?’ Usually I’m so exhausted from work I don’t have the energy, so hopefully having that extra time to rest will boost my energy levels.”

He said the decision to join the pilot was already having an impact. “Morale has improved and we’re hoping that our productivity at work__________________.”

Ed Siegel, chief executive of Charity Bank, said it was proud to be one of the first banks in the UK to___________________. “We have long been a champion of flexible working, but the pandemic really moved the goalposts in this regard. For Charity Bank, the move to a four-day week seems a natural next step.

“The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business. We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.”

Thousands of UK workers begin world’s biggest trial of four-day week | Productivity | The Guardian

The world’s biggest four-day week trial is underway – Autonomy

Further links to similar trials:

Perpetual Guardian’s four-day working week trial going well | Stuff.co.nz

A follow up TED talk could be Noah Harari’s What Explains the Rise of Humans

Topic could also be supplemented by pages from:

Especially the pages on the history of industrial age work patterns (that we are still pretty much caught up in).

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