A four-day working week has been a pipedream for many, but things might be about to change…
The prospect of working fewer hours without a loss of pay was firmly off the table for lots of us, until the pandemic had a profound impact on the way we viewed our working lives.
As a result, we saw a united global shift towards flexible working practices, with new options of working remotely, and – for some companies – compressed hours becoming rapidly more acceptable than they have ever been before.
The four-day working week – bookended with a glorious three-day weekend – is now more within reaching distance than it was ever before.
So, is it something more employers need to be getting their heads around? In short, yes. But let’s unpack the four-day working week, and dive into how it could benefit a business as well as being a win-win for employees.
What is the Four-Day Working Week?
The four-day working week is exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a reduction in required working hours per week that will see employers retain salaries and expectations, but employees will be required to complete tasks in four, rather than five, days.
The model is set around the 100:80:100 principle – employees will receive 100% of their pay, in 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% commitment and productivity.
The four-day week campaign highlights very clearly that an update to our working hours is long overdue – it’s been almost a century since the evolvement of the five-day working week!
It’s undeniably true that the economy has transformed dramatically since then – and with the rapid advancement of technology and a greater emphasis placed on workplace wellbeing and employee experience, perhaps we no longer require five days spent in the office to get work done productively.
Why would a Four-Day Working Week be good?
Tackles workplace stress
– Reducing the amount of time employees are required to be at work will inevitably help manage issues like stress, burnout, and overworking. Only working 4 days offers employees more time to recuperate and wind down from work as well as being able to spend extra time with friends and family.
– By offering employees additional time to rest away from work, research from recent trials has shown that there is a positive shift in how much time people take off work due to sickness. Employees will better be able to look after their physical and mental health with the provided additional time out of the office.
Opportunities for the ‘economically inactive’
– A four-day working week may better support individuals who are unable to work ‘full time’ due to medical conditions or caring responsibilities. The extra day off will provide greater flexibility to accommodate external factors and will help reduce levels of unemployment across the UK without impacting earning potential.
Increase in productivity
– It sounds a bit counterintuitive, however, experts have suggested that with one less day in the office per week, employees’ mental health and well-being will be boosted, which by default will mean a more positive approach to work and productivity levels will improve. It also encourages a reduction in unnecessary meetings and facilitates more focused periods of work.
Better employee retention
– With employee priorities shifting post-covid, the importance for employers of facilitating a healthy work-life balance has never been more prominent. The introduction of a four-day week will offer employees more opportunity to separate work and life, and as a result, employees will be more likely to remain in their job for a longer period thanks to the added flexibility and prioritisation of their wellbeing. Simply put, if the employer is seen to be looking after their employees, the employees are more likely to give back and stick around.
– Requiring employees to be in the office less will mean associated costs will be significantly lower for the employee – not to mention the positive environmental benefits of less commuting. As well as saving on the commute, employees who are parents won’t be required to spend as much money on childcare – another bonus in the current cost-of-living crisis. For employers, the cost of running an office might also be lower. Costs of electricity and heating are reduced significantly, having a greater benefit for the business all round.
A tool for competitive advantage
– The 2022 LinkedIn Workforce Confidence survey found that of 19,000 employees surveyed, 54% said a four-day week is one of their priorities for workplace benefits. Businesses that choose to implement the model are therefore more likely to attract talent and have higher retention rates for being seen to support the movement towards a healthier work-life balance.
The UK’s four-day week trial
Between June and December 2022, more than 60 UK companies trialled the four-day working week.
Of the 61 companies that took part, 56 extended the trial, whilst 18 were happy to make it a permanent feature of their business straight away.
Approximately 2,900 employees who took part were surveyed before and after. The results found that 39% were less stressed, 40% claimed to be sleeping better, 54% found it easier to balance their work-life responsibilities, and sick days fell by two-thirds.
These findings are a substantial breakthrough and are enough to get anyone thinking.
It’s easy to see why the four-day week would greatly improve people’s lives and it is a positive move that some employers are starting to rethink their long-established norms.
However, it’s important to recognise that the four-day week isn’t going to work for everyone.
Some industries will be able to allow their employees to all take the same day off, so everyone can get the long weekend they dream of. Others who rely on trade – for example – would have to vary the day employees are out of the office. This begs the question: how does this impact teamwork and communication?
Perhaps a good starting point is offering days of the week which are designated ‘no meeting days’ or providing flexible work hours. Starting with innovative approaches to a healthier work-life balance is arguably more doable and is a possibility within much greater reach than the four-day working week.
Clearly, a shift is required, and many businesses are working towards that, but it will take some time to navigate how this works best for individual organisations.
One thing is for sure, the way we work has changed and will continue to change. And it is safe to say that we are clearly not going back to how we worked pre-pandemic.