Is the four-day week taking off?

Is the four-day week catching on? New research suggests it is, for a variety of reasons.



Is the four-day week on the rise? With four-day week experiments taking place [the 4-Day Week campaign launched a six-month pilot programme in the UK with around 30 companies in January] and more and more people able to do hybrid working meaning there is not such a need for a three- or two-day week enthusiasm is definitely up for looking at different working patterns.

Scotland’s national advice service, Advice Direct Scotland, reported this week that its adoption of a four-day working week – on full pay –  has reduced its staff absence and turnover while boosting productivity and the quality of applicants. The Scottish Government has launched a £10m fund for four-day week pilot schemes.

The four-day week is also a way of saving on overheads and general costs for those businesses struggling with staffing shortages, rising prices and a whole plethora of other challenges.

A report this week from the Henley Business School suggests the pandemic has had a significant impact on employers’ – and employees’ – attitudes to a shorter working week.

It found that 65% of UK businesses surveyed are now implementing a four-day working week for some, or all, of their staff, compared with 50% who answered a similar survey carried out by Henley in 2019. Those surveyed claimed to have saved an estimated £104bn, approximately 2.2% of the UK’s annual turnover.

The report, The four-day week: The pandemic and the evolution of flexible-working, looks at some of the benefits of a shorter working week, including a greater work life balance for staff and greater motivation to work. Not surprisingly, particularly given concerns about the cost of living, workers favoured being given the same pay for working fewer days. They also supported reductions in time spent commuting through increased remote working.

Yet the findings on work life balance seem to clash with news that a third said they would spend their extra day off taking on additional work, either in another sector or setting up their own business. Maybe a change is as good as a rest…

Experts say any employer considering reducing the working week should take it gradually, testing the waters. Past research suggests it doesn’t work for all jobs or all departments. We spoke to one HR employer who looked at a four-day week, but instead opted for a nine-day fortnight with other additional flexibility to ensure employees don’t effectively end up doing a compressed week to catch up.

Time is definitely at a premium for many workers these days and many are exhausted due to the increasing intensity of the working week. That make the four-day week very attractive for candidates, particularly if it is on full pay, but some argue that a four-day week doesn’t allow for the kind of flexibility many people need. Yet other forms of flexible working, such as hybrid working, can end up being too loose to the point that it is difficult to get everyone in for a meeting.

All of our experience shows that it is a good idea to have some guidelines, to forward plan as much as is possible for big get-togethers and to ensure everyone communicates well, for instance, having a shared team calendar.  Technology is an enabler as long as employers don’t have so many channels – or keep changing them all the time – that no-one knows where to find anything and cliques form around preferred channels. Regular feedback on any changes is vital so problems can be addressed.

It all comes down to logistics in the end and that is something working parents tend to be champion at. After all, practice makes perfect.

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