The year has started with 30 UK companies taking part in a trial to test a four-day working week. With calls from the internet asking those participating to “not f*#! it up”, on face value, we can certainly understand why people are in favour of a four-day work week, so we decided to dig in a little deeper, and discover the pros and cons of cutting the working week.
Originally thought up by Henry Ford, the concept of the 8 hour day allowed employees to enjoy 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of play, and 8 hours of work. And it stuck. For a long time it’s worked, and worked well, however, in recent years there has been a call for a better work-life balance, a concept that has been easily dismissed by employers.
However, the pandemic has transformed that.
In 2020, the majority of the UK was suddenly thrust into the unknown, urged to stay at home and leaving employers no choice but to allow their teams to work flexibly, from the comfort of their own homes.
Now, we find that employers are calling their teams back into the office and they’re being challenged. Day in, day out, we’re having conversations with candidates who don’t want or feel the need to be in the office full time – and they have a point. They’ve kept businesses afloat from their lounges and box rooms, using ironing boards for desks, while also teaching their children, dropping shopping off to an elderly neighbour, and putting a load or two in the wash. This flexibility is what people want and it’s been proven, in most cases, to work. All of which begs the question, should employers re-think their approach?
What is the four day work week?
We’re not talking compressed hours here. We’re talking about employees reducing their normal hours by one day.
Although this concept might seem revolutionary to some, it’s not necessarily groundbreaking. Although only being tested in the UK this year, it is possible for employees to ask for a flexible work pattern as they are legally entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working under UK law.
It’s also been trialled across the world too, with Japan, Spain, New Zealand, and Iceland all taking part. And it’s been a resounding success, with 86% of Iceland’s workforce either moving to shorter hours for the same pay, or gaining the right to.
Like with anything, there will be pros and cons to introducing a four day work week, and thankfully we can see what they are, as it has already been adopted by some companies and globally tested.
Working longer hours doesn’t necessarily equate to higher levels of productivity, if anything it does the opposite, proven by the fact that the most productive countries are those that work the shortest hours. (Anyone up for moving to Luxemburg with us?!).
Microsoft, which adopted the four-day workweek in Japan, saw a boost in productivity of 40%. Not only that, but the workforce started to streamline processes and limit the amount of time spent in meetings.
Unsurprisingly those who were offered the option of a four-day workweek experienced a rise in their overall wellbeing and a reduction in stress. Something we all need considering that research by mental health charity Mind, found that work is the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives.
Downtime is something the majority of us all need or want more of, so giving people more time to do something they love, will only have a positive impact. The happier the people, the happier, more focused and satisfied they are when at work.
How could you not get behind that?
Better attraction and retention rates
People are in short supply and those that are looking expect more. A good benefits package is integral, it’s a powerful tool that can be used to sway potential talent and keep your existing team.
Offering a benefit as good as a four-day workweek is a fantastic way to get people talking and attract talent. You’ll likely see your employee turnover reduce too as it’s hard to walk away from a benefit as great as that one!
It also levels the playing field in terms of equality, with flexible working options benefiting women the most. According to research by Indeed and the Behavioural Insights Team, a clear flexible working option would lead to an increase in applications by 30%.
Naturally, a disadvantage of the four-day workweek is that not every sector can get involved. As a nation, we expect everyone, everywhere to be available 24/7. This expectation, the shortage of staff, and the nature of work involved in certain sectors, such as healthcare, retail, and leisure, means that some companies simply couldn’t accommodate the four-day workweek, even if days off were rotated.
Running out of time
Despite seeing an increase in wellbeing and productivity, reducing hours could cause undue stress to employees. The last thing you want to do is force people into a routine that they’re not comfortable with. You want to make sure your people feel able to do their job and do a good one at that, if they’re already feeling stretched, removing a day could see them work longer after hours to get things ticked off their to-do lists – which is not the aim.
Fumbling the approach
How you introduce a shortened workweek is paramount to its success. Removing a day is an extreme change so it’s pointless unless you’re willing to do it right. To make it work, you can’t suddenly demand your employees move to compressed hours and it’s likely that you’ll still need to pay full-time hours. It’s also vital you consult with your team and ask their opinion before making such a change.
What do we think, we hear you ask?!
As with anything, if your company can accommodate it, test it out! Find out how it works for you, find out if your employees enjoy it, and find out if your clients and customers are still getting the same level of service. If it works, then we see no reason why you wouldn’t introduce it.
If your company can’t accommodate it, why not try introducing core hours? Core hours are more concrete than a four day work week, but they do offer some level of flexibility for your employees and it’s still a banging benefit to be able to offer!