It was a bright cold Monday in May and the clocks might as well have been striking 13. But it was really just 6:30 a.m. and it was the iPhone alarm reminding me to prepare for work. What? On a Monday?

This month in the U.K., I’ve been getting used to Monday as the third day of the weekend. There are usually just two so-called bank holidays in May. We had one on May 1; a second on May 8, thanks to the coronation of King Charles III;, and we have a third on May 29. I don’t think my colleagues and I have been any less productive, so far.

It’s made me think that a four-day workweek can be the new norm. In February, the U.K.’s 4 Day Week Campaign announced that 56 of 61 companies that took part in a six-month trial would continue with the experiment, citing lower reports of burnout and a 65% reduction in sick days. For all other companies, this month of three fewer Mondays could provide the real-life experience to convince them of the efficiencies of a shorter workweek.

Bank holidays have always been about the salubrious effects of time off. When I moved to London from New York in 2018, I thought the term was “banked holidays” – religious or political commemorations that had been parked on Mondays and Fridays to avoid disrupting the middle of the workweek. According to my line of thinking, the early May bank holiday would have marked international labor day (or, for those averse to Marxist festivals, a pagan fertility ritual); and May 29 would be the Monday after Pentecost Sunday (or Whitsunday in the Church of England’s calendar).

I was partly right but mostly wrong. Bank holidays originated in late Victorian times – long before the weekend assumed its now familiar Saturday-Sunday shape (that happened in the 1930s). In the late 19th century, factories had begun to give workers time off – to increase efficiency by decreasing exhaustion – but banks had to work almost every day (except Sunday, when everyone was expected at church).

John Lubbock – research assistant to Charles Darwin but, more importantly, the heir to a banking fortune – had been elected to Parliament in 1865, where he introduced a bill to make it legal for banks to take days off without fear of penalty (a shuttered bank might have panicked customers into thinking the financial institution was in distress). With Sundays already a given, several Mondays (with or without religious connections) were added on: Easter Monday and the Whit Monday, for example.


Eventually, the rest of working Britain – not just banks – adopted the cycle of Lubbock’s holidays. Then came the global effect of the U.S. automotive pioneer Henry Ford giving the people he employed in his enormous enterprise Saturday and Sunday off. When that became the worldwide norm, Lubbock’s holidays gave British workers infrequent though much welcomed three-day weekends.

Shouldn’t three days be the rule instead of the occasional refreshment?

The sacredness of “weekends” is ours to define. God may have rested only one day after the creation of the cosmos, but mere mortals require extra time to recharge. That’s what recreation is supposed to provide –- a chance to begin again, reinvigorated. If working one day less gives us the energy to become more efficient, why not do it?

In a way, the post-COVID work environment has – inadvertently – made it easier to think of shorter as better. Some companies have told employees they have to come into the office a minimum of three days a week. That means workers have already been thinking about how to compress their assignments and tasks into fewer days. That should dovetail into the realities of a four-day week.

Currently, according to most studies, the first two days are the most productive. With Mondays off, that means Tuesday and Wednesday become the concentrated focus of our labors. Thursday becomes a busy hump day to push things toward completion. And Friday? Well, that’s when you can’t wait for the weekend to start. TGIF. (Of course, Friday could become part of the weekend instead. That might preserve the Monday bank holidays – and allow us to experiment with a three-day workweek!)

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