Most businesses who trialled a four-day working week in a major experimental UK initiative decided to continue the practice.
The results of the trial have been heralded as a breakthrough in the campaign for a national shorter working week with no drop in salaries.
So, is the four-day week the shape of things to come?
The standard five-day nine-to-five week has been part of our business life for more than a century.
So a shift to a four-day week would be considered a radical step. However, four-day week campaigners say it’s long overdue and has multiple advantages for employers and employees alike. But would your business be able to adapt to a three-day weekend?
In this post, credit broker V4B Business Finance delves into the concept of the four-day workweek and looks at the pros and cons for businesses.
The UK four-day week trial
More than 60 companies employing around 3,000 workers, from a local chip shop to some large corporates, took part in the UK four-day week trial – the biggest of its kind in the world.
The initiative was organised by the 4 Day Week Global Foundation in partnership with the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, economic analysts, and university researchers.
It ran for six months in the second half of 2022, based on a 100:80:100 model. Staff received 100 percent pay for working 80 percent of the standard business week while committing to maintaining at least 100 per cent productivity.
More than 50 of the participating businesses decided to carry on operating a four-day week after the trial run. They found that employees had maintained productivity while enjoying lower levels of stress.
Eighteen of these companies were particularly impressed with the four-day working week and have made the new routine permanent.
Organisers of the experiment say results demonstrate how businesses can effectively evolve the four-day week concept into a realistic policy with multiple benefits.
They add that the findings largely mirror results of previous trials in the US and Ireland, further strengthening the case for a four-day week.
Benefits of a four-day week
Four-day week campaigners say a 32-hour working week with no loss of pay would increase productivity and make workers healthier. It would also help the economy and our society and environment.
Proponents argue that working longer hours than the rest of Europe has failed to make the UK more productive and has resulted in the occupational phenomenon of stress-related job burnout.
Four-day week benefits for businesses
Studies have shown that businesses who adopt a four-day week increase productivity and reduce costs.
Research by Henley Business School in 2021 indicated that a four-day week could save businesses £104 billion a year.
Businesses who support a four-day working week say benefits include:
- The ability to attract and retain more talent.
- Greater company commitment from employees.
- Improved teamwork.
- Fewer sick days.
Benefits for employees
Benefits of a four-day week for employees include:
- Better work/life balance with more time for leisure.
- Improved mental and physical health, with less anxiety and fatigue.
- Reduced childcare and commuting expenses.
- Increased job satisfaction.
Potential drawbacks of a four-day week
Four-day week sceptics say businesses may be able to sustain shorter working hours over 12 months or so but not for a number of years.
Therefore, they argue, results of four-day week trials must be treated with caution and may not be enough to justify a sea change in business practice.
Adopting a different way of working is a big step. A four-day week won’t suit every business model. It may only be feasible for companies who can switch their business structure to a new way of working.
A further challenge of a four-day week for many employers – particularly small businesses – would be maintaining a dedicated customer base. A reduction in days worked makes attending to customer needs more difficult.
Cutting back on the number of working days and hours might also result in businesses having to hire more staff or increase overtime payments.
The four-day week model trialled in the UK envisages a 32-hour working week. In practice, this could result in some businesses feeling they have to squeeze something like a 40-hour week into four eight-hour days. This would defeat the object of a workforce with less stress.
Is a four-day week realistic for businesses?
As of February 2023, full-time employees in the UK were working on average 36.6 hours a week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A four-day workweek of 28 to 32 hours remained a fringe idea for some time but businesses in the post-pandemic era are now revisiting the concept of a standard working week.
Conversations around the four-day week intensified in the wake of Covid-19, with calls for governments across Europe to embrace it.
In the UK, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is pushing for fewer working hours without pay reduction. And Labour had already included a 32-hour working week in its 2019 General Election manifesto.
Four-day week advocates point to advances in technology – especially AI (artificial intelligence) – enabling employees to do the same amount of work in less time.
Would a four-day week work for your business?
The feasibility of a four-day week varies widely depending on the industry sector and the individual business.
For instance, 80 percent of employees in IT and telecoms think a four-day workweek is realistic, but only 55 percent of those in education support the idea.
There’s also pessimism about a shorter working week among workers in manufacturing, human resources and travel businesses.
And there are sectors where a four-day week simply won’t work – those requiring 24/7 coverage, for example, such as healthcare and emergency services.
Similarly, client-facing organisations like retail and hospitality businesses need to maintain a traditional schedule to meet customer needs.
Businesses with a large workforce and complex operations may also experience difficulties in implementing a shorter workweek. (Most companies taking part in the UK four-day week trial were relatively small. About 90 percent had 100 employees or fewer).
While the four-day week remains a topic for debate, one thing is certain: businesses will have to keep an open mind. They need to accommodate increasing changes in technology while keeping focus on staff health and wellbeing to maintain productivity and a healthy work/life balance.