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Four-day working week: is it the future?

24 February 2023

By Jess Watts

Four-day working week: is it the future?

​The past few years have seen a massive shift regarding working life. The events of 2020 and the subsequent forced flexibility have encouraged people to see the benefits of creating work-life balance. The idea of a longer weekend or a split week appeals to many employees and the advantages primarily include burnout reduction and increased employee wellbeing. Burnout culture once believed that the key to working better was working more, however, as society has shifted and generations have begun putting their health first, this idea has become outdated and unproductive. This being said, changing such a long-lived and institutionalised part of daily lives is no small task and generating the support for a mass shift to a four-day work week takes time and money. This has led to questions about how worthwhile these sacrifices may be.

The widespread discourse about the common sense surrounding a traditional work week encouraged the 4-Day Week Campaign, 4-Day Week Global, and Autonomy to start a trial which implemented a four-day working week in companies across the UK. Sixty-one employers took part in the six-month trial, in which employees were given a 4:3 on and off ratio with no loss of pay. Essentially, this trial proposed 100% pay for 80% hours. During the six months, businesses were offered full support, training, and insights from people who have already applied the structure to their own workplaces, and the results have been very interesting.

Statistically, the overwhelming response to the trial was positive. Out of the sixty-one participating workplaces, fifty-six firms were interested in continuing with a four-day work week, with eighteen businesses already implementing permanent change. All those who partook in the trial agreed that it offered “extensive benefits” for employee’s wellbeing, and there were also strong results in revenue, workforce attrition, and more. One participating firm who are fully embracing the new system found that removing unnecessary meetings, travel, and admin aided in achieving this structure. Managing Director Simon Ursell also noted that, “fundamentally, if you give people this incredible incentive of a whole day of their time a week, they are going to work really hard to make it work.” Now he reports that his staff are doing 2% more in four days than they used to do in five. Alongside this increase in productivity, staff have been happier, absences have reduced, and applications to work at the company have skyrocketed. This seems like overwhelming evidence to support the trial’s proposal.

On the contrary, some workplaces acknowledged the difficulties the trial brought with it, noting that they “will need to see productivity gains” for the proposed changes to make sense. The results of the trial were not obvious in places and brought up more questions than answers. Citizens Advice in Gateshead was one of the organisations that noticed some areas in which the proposed new work schedule didn’t produce the benefits hoped for. While they recognise the burnout reduction rate and decreased pressure on employees, their Chief Executive commented that, “there are some areas of the business where the jury is still out as to how effective it will be.” Citizen’s Advice noticed difficulties within the contact centre in terms of maintaining efficiency and reaching targets. The company were even driven to hire more staff to make up for the losses which appeared greater than the benefits. Though the four-day working week hasn’t immediately aided specific areas of their company, Citizen’s Advice hope that the extra investment will eventually be compensated by a decrease in costs in areas such as recruitment, retention, and sickness.

The trial has demonstrated both benefits and disadvantages of switching to a four-day working week, with the majority beginning to consider and implement said changes. Either way, whether it takes one year or ten, there is a culture shift coming, and the working week will be a target of the modifications. Will this become the new way of life, or will a five-day week forever be the go-to?

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