A four-day working week trial has been launched in the UK. There has been ongoing debate over the benefits of a four-day working week, and as the UK is seeing the end of the Covid pandemic, more businesses are seemingly taking the plunge and trialling a different work model. As modern technology has significantly sped up the way we work, the five-day week may no longer be necessary.
Around 30 companies are taking part in a six-month trial of a four-day week where employees will have an extra day off per week and will receive the same pay they would receive had they been working their typical five-day weeks. The purpose is to see whether implementing such a system increases employee’s productivity whilst giving them more time off and an increased work life balance. Researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College will measure whether employees can work at 100% productivity for 80% of the time. Joe O’Connor, the pilot programme manager for 4 Day Week Global said that “the four-day week challenged the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are at work, to a sharper focus on the output being produced”.
Much of the initiative behind the UK trials stems from success stories in other countries. A trial in Iceland, where workers on a 9-5 contract who had their hours cut to 35 hours without a reduction in pay, found that productivity and wellbeing improved for all the workers who took part. Following the trial, Icelandic trade unions secured a general reduction in working hours for 86% of the working population. In Japan, a trial at Microsoft saw productivity increase by 40%. Finland’s Prime Minister has called for the introduction of a four-day working week and six-hour days.
It is also thought that the introduction of a four-day working week will help to tackle the unemployment crisis. Work would be shared more equally across the economy, which in turn would create much needed new jobs.
Advantages of the four-day working week:
• Reduced costs – for both employers and employees. The office would be closed for one extra day a week which would see running costs drop significantly. Employees would be paying less to commute to work.
• Happier employees – nearly 15% of people experience mental health problems at work which means that in the UK, nearly 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems which costs employers approximately £2.4 billion each year. Having a longer weekend will allow employees to have a better work life balance, to partake in activities and see people that would natural boost wellbeing.
• Increased productivity levels – this has been seen in Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and other countries globally. A New Zealand four-day week trial found that 78% of employees had an increased work life balance, up 24% from pre-trial.
• Retention – assisted by the Pandemic, flexible working is an attractive feature of a role. If the trial is a success and more businesses start taking on a four-day work week, other companies will have to keep up to keep their employees and future employees interested.
Disadvantages of the four-day working week:
• It will not be appropriate for every employer / employee – it is only really viable for those who have the flexibility to shift their business to a completely new way of working. The questions to ask are whether the four-day week still allows optimum support for clients, customers etc.
• Longer hours – although in many trials the employees’ hours decreased, in reality, most employees will be expected to, or will feel pressured to work the same five-day hours into four days. For example, if someone typically works 40 hours a week, a four-day working week may mean that employee now needs to work 10 hour days. This could increase work-related stress and actually create a detrimental effect on wellbeing.
Although the UK are just trialling this method of working, employers will need to be thinking carefully in the following six-months as to whether this is a way of working that is suitable for their employees. Employers will need to look at practicalities such as updated policies, holiday entitlement, available resources, demands of clients and/or customers, suitability for the business model. It’ll be interesting to see the future of flexible working.