The pros and cons of a four-day working week
Reducing the working week to four days rather than five is being tested by organisations in a number of countries in the world, including dozens in the UK as part of the 4 Day Week campaign.
This pilot is a coordinated, six-month trial, with no loss in pay for employees. It runs alongside similar pilot schemes taking place in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is being coordinated by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University and will measure whether employees can operate at 100% productivity despite reducing the days they are at work.
The four-day working week could be a great benefit to employees but there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider.
1. Happier employees
One of the obvious advantages from the studies to date are that employees have claimed they are happier working a four-day week.
Maintaining good mental health is good for businesses, but it also gives employees more time to focus on the things they enjoy doing, be it learning a new skill, enjoying a hobby, spending time with their loved ones or allowing them to take better care of elderly relatives or young dependents.
Often happier employees mean more loyal employees. By giving them the gift of time, employees value their employer more highly.
2. Fewer health issues and sick days
Having happy employees typically means fewer health issues. One in six employees will experience poor mental health and stress can often manifest itself in physical ways. According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2020/21 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work related ill health cases.
Having a shorter working week can improve employee wellbeing and reduce the time required to deal with health issues.
3. Increase in productivity
Stanford University’s study on productivity found that overworked employees are actually less productive. When New Zealand based Perpetual Guardian conducted a trial study of a four-day working week, it found that employees maintained the same productivity levels while demonstrating improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance and company loyalty. Employees also claimed they experienced up to 45% less stress.
Highly productive countries such as Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have an average working week of 27 hours.
By knowing that employees have an extra day off, they are often more motivated to complete tasks and be more focussed.
4. Recruitment and retention
It goes without saying that this is a wonderful benefit to implement for existing staff and would be extremely desirable for any potential candidates looking to join the business. It is a great retention tool.
5. Promoting equality
Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the UK Government Equalities Office shows that roughly two million British people are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women.
A four-day working week could mean some of those individuals would be able to better juggle their families with work commitments and be more likely to be in employment.
6. A smaller carbon footprint
Countries with shorter working hours typically have a smaller carbon footprint, so that reducing the working week could also have an environmental benefit.
1. One size doesn’t fit all
One of the obvious disadvantages is the fact that a four-day week simply will not work for every business.
Introducing a four-day week means adapting the entire operation to this way of working, and for companies which need to operate around the clock it may not be possible without careful planning and additional resources.
2. Longer working hours
To free up one day of time, many employees would be required to work additional hours on the four days they are working. This could counteract the productivity benefit and put employees under more pressure to carry out their duties / complete their tasks in a shorter period of time. This could impact stress levels as well as productivity.
It is also worth noting that while the point of this shorter week is to benefit the employees, the four longer working days could impact the work-life balance by working earlier/later in the day.
If you are considering introducing a four-day working week, you might wish to ask your existing employees what their thoughts are on this new way of working.
By conducting a survey and requesting honest feedback (which can be completely anonymous) you will gain an understanding of your employees’ perspectives and demonstrate that you value your employees’ opinions.
It is also worth noting that changing the working days would be a change to the employment contract, so you would need to obtain the employees’ written approval via a contract amendment.
3. Rest breaks
If the four-day week is something you decide to implement, it is important to consider encouraging more breaks within the working day to ensure employees are not at their screens for too long.
In the UK the law governing rest breaks is as follows:
Rest breaks at work: workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute break during their working day if they work more than six hours per day (this could be the lunch break, for example).
Daily rest: workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days (for example, if they finish at 9pm, they shouldn’t start work until 8am the following day).
Weekly rest: workers have the right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week, or an uninterrupted 48 hours every two weeks (this would be covered with a three day weekend).
4. Working Time Regulations
Another important factor to be aware of is the UK Working Time Regulations (maximum weekly working hours).
Generally, an employee is not allowed to work more than 48 hours per week on average (normally taken over 17 weeks); however, the employees can choose to opt out. Whether an employee is opted in or out is dependent upon their employment contract.
5. Holiday entitlement, salary and weekend work
If your employees will work the same hours but over four days instead of five, then employees will be entitled to receive the same holiday entitlement and salary as working five days.
If weekend work will be required it’s important to consider how this could work in practice. You will also need to review the employment contract to ensure this is clearly stated. Otherwise, existing employees will need to provide their written agreement (if it impacts them) via a contract amendment and the contract template will need to be updated for new hires going forward.
Amie Crowther-Bali, pictured below, is HR coordinator at corporate services & global expansion, active wealth and fund solutions company ZEDRA