Thousands will join the four-day work week trial later this year, thought to be the biggest worldwide pilot scheme.
Over 3,000 employees at 60 companies will participate in the scheme which will run from June until December and measure the impact of a shorter working week on conditions and productivity. It will be managed by Oxford and Cambridge universities as well as Boston College in the USA. It will be run in partnership with the 4-Day Week Global campaign, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and think tank, Autonomy.
Employees will work full-time for four days rather than five, with no loss of pay.
Joe O’ Connor, chief executive of the 4 Day Week Global campaign said that employers are increasingly focused on “quality of outputs, not quantity of hours”.
You can register your interest by March 31 2022 at 4dayweek.com/ukpilot.
What are the benefits of a 4-day working week?
Some who have trialled and implemented a four-day working week have revered the change for a number of reasons, so let’s break them down.
Productivity is one of the first – and most compelling – reasons that companies make the transition.
When looking at this table from Time, Norway, Demark and the Netherlands are productive countries with working hours of around 27 hours apiece. Japan rates at 20 out of 35, despite working notoriously long hours.
Microsoft Japan tried the four-day working week and productivity went up 40 per cent, New Zealand-based Perpetual Garden had an increase of 20 per cent and UK-based MRL Recruitment said their trial increased productivity by 25 per cent.
Research from Henley Business School indicates that staff at businesses with a four-day week are 78 per cent happier and 62 per cent took fewer sick days.
It also decreases stress levels. Staff at Perpetual Guardian reported a 7 per cent decrease in stress after moving to a four-day week.
More workforce inclusive
Having more flexible working practices gives opportunities to potential employees with caring and other responsibilities.
What’s more, it could help to lead the way for greater gender equality. “History is also determined by the idea of male breadwinner in the factory in the 1950s. The working week evolved out of that. That was when the working week itself was informed by a very patriarchal, outdated, outmoded style of work. We’ve moved beyond that,” said Harper.
Improves staff recruitment and retention
Flexible working could improve staff retention and attract new talent. Not only will it be more appealing to employees who want flexible working, but it’s a great perk for people who want to pursue a separate passion.
A study from TopCV revealed that almost one-third of UK jobseekers rank a four-day working week as their top priority for their next role. This was closely followed by a total change of career or industry (29 per cent) and an organisation committed to equality, diversity and inclusion (19 per cent).
More environmentally friendly
Due to less power being used in workplaces and fewer emissions from commuting, a four-day working could lead to a smaller carbon footprint. The 2,063 respondents in Henley Business School’s research estimated that they would drive 588m miles less per week if it was reduced to four working days.
Spending more time at work and a generally faster-paced mindset can result in a higher consumption lifestyle, as Harper explains. “For example, it can mean driving instead of walking or cycling, or having a rushed, frozen, energy-intensive meal put in the microwave, rather than cooking with homemade ingredients.”
What about the disadvantages?
However, it’s best to think of your businesses needs before you go ahead with a four-day working week.
Customers/clients may not like the change and go with a competitor
If you go for the blanket ‘day off’ approach and close your business for an extra day, customers may not realise that they can’t get hold of you that day. If their enquiry is urgent or they get annoyed that you’re not available, they may go to someone else.
It’s not suitable for every business
Some businesses aren’t suited to the four-day working week. You’ll need the right support, technology and workplace culture in order for it to be a success. This could involve spending extra money on automation, outsourcing and/or HR platforms.
London’s Wellcome Trust decided to scrap its trial because it was “too operationally complex to implement” for its 800 staff.
Treehouse, an HR firm in the US, dropped its four-day week as it was struggling to keep up with competitors.
What’s more, the earlier research from Henley Business School shows that 45 per cent of workers would worry about being perceived as lazy by colleagues and over a third (35 per cent) would be concerned if they had to hand over their work to colleagues.
Operations may be difficult if you have different working structures going on
If everybody’s days off are on different days, then some may feel pressure to work on ‘off days’ due to different schedules. Even if they don’t, not having staff in may disturb deadlines.
“If you change one person’s routine, you may find that it has an impact on another team. There may not have been a realisation about the interconnectivity within a workplace between teams and individuals and the knock-on effects of that,” said Harper.
A paper by Jethro Elsden, data analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies, shows that a four-day week would be costly for the economy. Based on current productivity levels, the measure would cost £45bn. Even with ‘generous’ productivity gains, estimates suggest that it would still cost £17bn.