The Ultimate Employee Benefit – Should a 4-day work-week be the norm, not the exception?

Imagine a working world where every weekend was a bank holiday. Would this be an incredible paradisiacal parallel to the 37.5-hour, five-day-a-week grind? Or would it cause more issues than it would solve?

Following the world’s most extensive trial of the four-day working week in the UK, it’s time to delve into the pros and cons of one of the most exciting employee benefits being considered in modern times.

So, why are 4-day weeks even being considered?

The pandemic forced companies to adapt to remote-working strategies and seek more effective means of hitting employee productivity targets. Flexible work arrangements became the norm, and the notion that running a successful business requires “bums on seats” five days a week became a thing of the past. 

The five-day week is already a relatively modern phenomenon, led by legislation in the 19th century to reduce factory working hours and offer paid breaks. But, awareness around work-life balance (due in part to flexible working practices adopted during the pandemic) has brought the traditional structure of a working week back under serious consideration.

Modern technology and workplace optimisation challenge the mindset that more hours equals greater productivity. Many forward-thinking UK companies are willing to give it a try. A CIPD report on the four-day week found that 34% of organisations think a shorter week will become a reality within the next ten years. So, if you’re going to do it, now is the time to consider ‘Could we make this work?

How did the trial of a short working week go?

The UK trial had 61 companies commit to reducing their staff working hours by 20% for six months. 

4 Day Week Global coordinated the trial in partnership with the think tank Autonomy and campaign group 4 Day Week Campaign, with academics at Cambridge and Boston College carrying out the research. 

Were the overall results positive? Overwhelmingly so!

92% of participating organisations have decided to continue a four-day week. Of the five companies that aren’t, three have paused, and two have opted to simply extend their trial.

Interestingly, revenue rose by an average of 1.4%, and the number of staff leaving fell by an impressive 57%.

But how did the employees feel? Unsurprisingly, 90% want to continue with the 4-day week, and 15% said that no amount of money would entice them to accept a 5-day schedule in their next role. 

Most staggeringly, 71% of employees reported reduced levels of burnout by the end of the six-month trial.

But on the flip side, employees at one organisation expressed concerns that a shorter working week had increased their workload. They also pointed out that the heightened focus on workplace efficiency had detrimental effects on the more social aspects of office life and company culture. Having time to chat over office doughnuts and a cup of tea is an integral part of office life (and as avid hot beverage drinkers, we back that!).

Benefits of a shorter working week

How do you decide if a 4-day week is beneficial for your business? Here are our pros and cons;

First up, the pros.

  • Increase in productivity

Undoubtedly, the biggest concern is ‘Will productivity drop?’. Numerous trials have disproven this theory, and results show that employees tend to focus more on time management and efficiency, as they know they have a shorter timeframe to get their lists cleared. In 2018, New Zealand-based financial services company Perpetual Guardian conducted a trial in which employees worked four 8-hour days. The company reported a 20% increase in productivity. 

  • Improved work-life balance = higher rates of employee retention

If your employees are happy, with reduced stress levels, they’re much more likely to stick around. Employees in Iceland reported improved morale, increased job satisfaction and a greater sense of work-life balance. This finding is backed by 62% of participants in the UK trial, who said it was much easier for them to juggle work with their social life.

  • Cost Savings

Employees will benefit from having one less day of commuting to pay for, plus an extra day at home potentially means less budget being spent on eating out. 

For employers, a 4-day workweek can lead to cost savings on office space, related utilities and other operational expenses.

  • Environmental Benefits

Fewer cars on the road mean less congestion and lower carbon emissions. A nice little bonus for the planet! 

What are the disadvantages?

  • The 4-day model doesn’t suit every business.

A 4-day work week isn’t a good fit for all business operations. If your clients expect you to be available Monday- Friday, you may need to look at staggered schedules to keep clients and consumers happy. 

This issue was highlighted during a Utah study, which had to stop due to poor customer satisfaction. The closure of their offices on a Friday meant that government services were unavailable, and customers were less than thrilled. 

  • Not cost-effective for all industries

The Swedish plan to reduce work hours for nurses was scrapped after two years due to increasing costs. If your business requires a 7-day-a-week cover, you may need more employees to fill the gap.

  • Longer work days (potentially)

The workday might need to be extended to fit a week’s work into four days. Some people may find it challenging to work 10 hours or more daily, increasing the risk of exhaustion and burnout. We all also accept that less time in work results in better work-life balance (in theory), but if employees have to work harder during condensed hours, will it cancel out the overall beneficial effects of less time in the office? 

  • Reduced Employee Benefits

Adopting a 4-day working week may mean that, in some cases, overall hours are reduced rather than compressed. In this case, would employers opt to decrease holiday time, insurance cover and employee benefits? 

How do you create an effective structure to support the transition to a 4-day week? 

If you’ve survived the headache of implementing an entirely remote workforce during the pandemic, you know anything is possible. 

Here are some of the primary considerations;

  • Start Small, Dream Big: consider trialling a 4-day workweek with a small group of employees before jumping to a company-wide change. A trial period will help you identify potential issues and allow you to develop plans to resolve them.
  • Consider staggering your rotas: Decide how many days per week you need staff present. Will a blanket 4-day week work for your business? Or do you need to split the days between departments? How do you ensure collaboration between departments isn’t impacted?
  • Communication is vital: be transparent with employees about the changes and ensure their line managers are fully briefed and can offer complete insight and support. 
  • Be Flexible: Consider offering different schedules or arrangements to accommodate employees with additional needs or preferences.
  • Monitor progress: Keep track of productivity, employee satisfaction, and other metrics to ensure the new arrangement works as intended.
  • Adjust as needed: Be open to making changes or adjustments as necessary to ensure that the four-day workweek is sustainable and effective.

Let’s wrap this up;

Whilst we acknowledge that the 4-day work week won’t be a good fit for every company (especially those within specific industries), it’s clear that there are many benefits to a shorter week. A better work-life balance (if the sweet spot between hours worked & responsibilities are met), increased productivity, lower staff turnover, the potential for increased profits, good for the planet, the list goes on. 

But, there’s a handful of potential cons we must also consider. Is it cost-effective for your company? Does your workforce want to work longer days in return for more time spent with their families? Could this structure lead to increased rates of burnout? Will the impact on their employee benefits sway their opinion? 

Economists have long lamented redundant hours spent in the office, with many employees ‘active’ work days finishing long before the clock strikes 6 pm, yet finding themselves unable to go home due to the ever-prevailing pressure of ‘presenteeism’. Maybe it’s time we looked to change that.  

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