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Should You Adopt the Four-Day Working Week?

23 March 2023

Four Day Week Trial produces Positive Results…But What Next?

How does the notion of working fewer days a week for the same annual salary sound? Too good to be true? Well, it could be a reality for many employees in the near future if the results of the first four day working week UK trial are to be believed.

Organised by 4 Day Week Global, an international foundation which funds research into the future of work and workplace wellbeing, the trial took place between June and December 2022 and involved organisations across the UK, including both non-profits and private enterprises. It was monitored by academics from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, as well as Boston College and the results were published in February this year.


The Rationale

According to 4 Day Week Global, we’re overdue an update to our working practices. The foundation asserts that, while we moved from working six days a week to five approximately 100 years ago, it’s now time to go even further by reducing the standard working week from 40 to 32 hours in order to achieve a better work-life balance.

The notion is that employees will happily work in a more efficient and effective way for four days, if they’re afforded another day of the week to themselves in return. It creates a kind of ‘bank holiday buzz’ during the four working days, that ensures performance and productivity can be sustained at a high level, while also affording staff an additional opportunity to rest and recuperate, as well as indulging their hobbies and interests, during their extra rest day.


The Results

So far, the results of the UK trial would seem to support 4 Day Week Global’s proposition. 61 organisations took part in the trial. At its conclusion, 56 confirmed they intended to extend the trial period, with 18 making the change permanent. That’s a whopping 92% intending to keep the four-day week going, at least a little longer. These results, we’re told, largely mirror the outcome of earlier pilots in Ireland and the US.

So, what’s so good about the four day week?

Well, it definitely worked for the trial employees. Of the 2,900 who took part, 39% reported being less stressed, 40% reported sleeping better and 54% said they found it easier to balance work and home life.

It also produced positive outcomes for the organisations themselves. They reported being satisfied with productivity and business performance during the trial, that sick days had fallen by about two-thirds and that staff turnover had been more than halved. Given the talent shortage we’re currently living through, and the difficulties businesses are facing recruiting and retaining staff as a result, these are benefits employers can’t afford to ignore.

The Reality

While the feedback from both employers and employees has probably piqued your interest, you might be wondering how things work in practice, because it does require a little creative thinking… In some cases, the employer will attempt to streamline their processes, rather than simply requiring their staff to do five days’ work in four. You might, for instance, remove unnecessary meetings, travel and administrative tasks and give staff the autonomy to identify and implement their own day-to-day efficiencies. In other cases, the employer will earmark a particular day of the week to ‘give up’ (often a Friday) and extend the length of the remaining working days to make up the difference. The challenge here is that it’s not always possible to spread the load across fewer days and all the while Monday to Friday are considered to be working days by the majority of organisations, being closed on one of them might well produce continuity challenges and even criticism.  

The Future

The findings of the UK trial will now be presented to MPs as part of ongoing efforts to promote a 32-hour working week. 4 Day Week Global also intends to lobby government to encourage legislation giving staff the right to request a four-day pattern. Whether there will be any legislative intervention in support of a reduced working week on a country-wide basis remains to be seen. Were a working pattern of this nature to be rolled out across the economy, many organisations would want greater assurances where productivity gains are concerned, particularly given the challenges the UK has traditionally faced with regard to rates of productivity. At this stage, 4 Day Week Global doesn’t have a firm handle on how productivity was affected by the change in working pattern. Employees self-reported a positive impact, but we’ve not yet seen any data to back it up and of the 61 participating organisations, only 23 actually provided financial data covering revenues (and that data showed they broadly stayed the same during the trial). It’s also worth noting that the trial participants volunteered to join. This suggests they were open to the prospect of a reduced working week, embracing the need to support worker wellbeing, including promoting healthy work-life balance and were more likely to positively approach the slightly less attractive or challenging aspects of this new working pattern than organisations forced to accept it. Finally, while it’s great that a fairly prolonged and wide-reaching trial has been carried out in the UK, identifying the real impact of the four day week would require a longer-term approach. Not only do the participating businesses not yet know what effect their reduced working hours are likely to have on productivity and performance long-term, individual employees can’t yet report a sustained change in their experience of work-life balance given the narrow scope of the trial.  

The Options

Whatever the next steps for the four day week trial, it should inspire us all to consider whether we can, and perhaps should, be doing things a little differently. This could involve implementing your own four day week trial. If you are thinking about that, be sure to make it clear you’re only trialling it, and that nothing is changing permanently, so as to allow you to revert back to five day working, should you wish to do so. You’ll also want to give thought to how you approach part time workers and holiday pay if you implement a four day approach, even temporarily. Alternatively, you might want to consider consulting with your staff about what would benefit their work-life balance and the commitments and responsibilities they’re subject to in their personal lives by carrying out a staff survey first to find out what they want. You may want to introduce a greater degree of flexibility as to when and where hours are worked, allowing employees more control over their working lives rather than a four day week or you could give thought to whether the nine-day fortnight might work for you, perhaps reserving the ninth working day for training and development? There’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of modern working life, so collaborating with your staff to find a creative solution that really works for them and you, rather than imposing a new way of working they’ve not requested or approved, is likely to be the best and most successful approach.
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