What is thought to be the largest trial of the four-day working week started in the UK in June.  For World Wellbeing Week we take a look at whether businesses should be embracing the four-day week as part of their strategy for the future workplace.

Around 70 companies and 3,300 workers are taking part in the four-day working week pilot scheme in the UK.  It will last for six months and operate on 100: 80: 100 model, that is 100% productivity for 80% of the time on 100% of salary.  Government officials are said to be keeping a close eye on the project, acknowledging that the four-day week "may work well" for some businesses.

Why now?

The five day working week model has been around in the UK since the 1930s, but even as early as the 1960s there have been calls for a four-day working week.  Until quite recently it would not have been considered seriously in boardrooms, but with the ground shift in the way many of us work brought about by the pandemic, coupled with the need to retain talented staff, attract the best recruits and act upon diversity and inclusion statements, new working practices now feature high up on the business agenda and some organisations are considering what a four-day working week might look like for them.  

The benefits

The benefits are well documented.  Research in other studies shows increased productivity and improved workers' wellbeing.  A four-day week provides a better work-life balance, with less stress, fewer sick days and greater employee engagement.  It would also promote equality in the workplace allowing employees to juggle their work and family commitments more easily and would reduce the carbon footprint by reducing the need to commute, providing an environmental benefit too.

But what do businesses need to consider?

  • Risk of creating a two tier system: Not all jobs lend themselves to a four-day week.  There is a risk that higher status and office based roles could benefit from the four-day working week model whereas lower paid jobs, for example in hospitality, retail and manufacturing, may not. Similarly, there is the risk that more men than women will benefit from a four-day week.  A briefing paper from the Social Market Foundation suggests that a fairer distribution of the domestic workload and more opportunities for the underemployed would need to come alongside a four-day working week to make it successful for all.  
  • How to deal with part time workers fairly: With part time workers already working reduced hours, but for reduced pay, employers would need to consider whether to increase pay in line with the rest of the workforce to address any inequalities and potential discrimination issues.
  • Not causing a reduction in customer accessibility: Operating a four-day week model could mean that workers are less accessible for customers and clients who could, in turn, look elsewhere.  Similarly, in other sectors, reduced shift patterns could increase customer waiting times.  Businesses may need to consider hiring additional staff to ensure sufficient availability for customers with the associated increased costs.  Without a four-day standard week for all, those who adopt it could lose a competitive edge.
  • It's not compressed hours: The purpose of the four-day week is to improve work-life balance while maintaining or increasing productivity.  Offering compressed hours rather than the 100:80:100 format would not be playing to the potential strengths of the four-day week.  Instead, it would be simply squeezing the stresses of working into a shorter time period, which would be counterproductive.  
  • Flexibility may be a preferred option: Research shows that retaining staff does not only come from paying higher wages, flexibility is also a desirable component.  Workers want to have more control not just on where they work but also on when and how they work.  The four-day week for some organisations may be too rigid and the sought after flexibility can be achieved in other ways e.g. more flexible daily working patterns, compressed hours during school holidays, reduced hours on Fridays in the summer months.

The four-day working week is not here yet, but the results of the trial will make interesting reading and this is an item that is now being taken seriously on the business agenda.

Key contact

Katherine Moore

Katherine Moore

Knowledge Lawyer, Employment

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