NON, je ne regrette rien. That’s the conclusion we’re all supposed to arrive at when we reflect on our lives, isn’t it? It’s most chic to meditate on our poorest decisions – the haircut that made us look like a wet spaniel; the one-night stand who smelled like one – and give a nonchalant shrug. After all, we are the sum total of our experiences. The good, the bad and the stinking.

Yet despite having spent much of the past year wearing a felted beret at a jaunty angle in the hope it would confer some sort of elegant composure amid the raging bin fire of 2020, I can’t profess to being an insouciant Edith Piaf type. Regrets? I’ve had a few.

The one I keep circling back to is the same one that brought the godawful phrase "circling back" into my life in the first place: the office, and the amount of time I spent in one until the pandemic hit and I lost my job. Why did I do so much unpaid overtime? What possessed me to forgo spending time with friends and family in favour of fattening someone else’s already fit-to-burst pockets? I feel a fool when all I’ve got to show for it are Milhouse-thick glasses and shoulders knottier than pine.

I now wonder why I didn’t make the case for a healthier work-life balance – and it turns out I’m not alone in reshaping my priorities.

A study by Tiger Recruitment discovered that as a result of the pandemic, work-life balance is now third on the list of desirable job attributes for jobseekers, rising from fifth place in 2019. The same piece of research found 49 per cent of people like that Covid has allowed them to work flexibly. They fear a return to the office will mean slipping back to the stifling rigidity of a Monday-Friday, 9-5 routine where they do a tea round every day and have to remember Sheila takes milk, but only a splash, and sweetener, but only a wee half, and can you use her Keep Calm and Carry On mug? (The last bit may not have featured in the report.)

It’s timely, then, that a motion was passed earlier this month at the SNP conference for a review to be launched of working practices in Scotland, including an exploration of a four-day working week. It could only be enforced in an independent Scotland, but it’s encouraging these discussions are taking place – as they have done on a national level, of course, after a four-day week became a Labour policy in late 2019.

We don’t need research to prove we’d enjoy ourselves more if we clocked off early to tap-dance to the pub and swing from chandeliers. But it’s there all the same. Microsoft Japan trialled a four-day work week and found employees were happier as a result; financial services company Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand switched to a four-day week in 2018 and reported a drop in staff stress levels from 45 percent to 38 percent.

The advantages of a shorter working week aren’t confined to a boost in the wellbeing of the workforce, though, and it’s the associated economic benefits and increase in productivity that may make people with no soul sit up and take notice.

An open letter to world leaders, which has been published online by the 4 Day Week Campaign and includes signatories such as former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, reminds how reduced working hours have been used throughout history to stimulate the economy during times of crisis. As redundancy levels hit a record high in the UK, with the number of benefit claimants in Scotland almost double what it was a year ago, it’s safe to say we are living through such a time.

A five-day working week was introduced to counter the mass unemployment brought about by the Great Depression; prior to this, people worked longer hours over six days. According to progressive think tank Autonomy, a four-day working week could create 60,000 jobs in Scotland’s public sector and would cost between £1.4 billion to £2bn, or two percent of Scottish public spending. This doesn’t factor in the reduced healthcare costs expected to go hand-in-hand with a less-stressed workforce.

Several studies have shown a reduction in working hours leads to an increase in productivity, too; people spend less time hopping from task to task and are better able to focus. We’re all familiar with Parkinson’s Law – work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion – which is why I’ll have Sellotape in my hair on Christmas Eve as I hurriedly wrap my family’s gifts despite having bought them months ago.

And don’t we need more leisure time to produce better work, anyway? Even those of us who love what we do for a living and don’t view work and life as two distinct, competing spheres can recognise the importance of taking a break from what pays the bills to enrich our lives and, by extension, our future output.

There’s a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently for obvious reasons. It was written by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware, who noted the final thoughts of her patients in the last weeks of their lives. Many rued the amount of time spent with their nose to the grindstone instead of enjoying the company of loved ones. They wished they hadn’t worked so hard.

If we can extract any positive from this year – and yes, I realise that’s like seeking out redeeming features in Priti Patel (her cheekbones, though) – it’s that our proximity to death, and the temporary demise of life as we once knew it, has afforded us a clarity of perspective we may not have ordinarily received until it was too late.

While I may ache for a return to normalcy, the boundaries of my life post-Covid will be drawn differently. I don’t want to harbour any more regrets.

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