We all the know the feeling… the anticipation building on a Friday afternoon, looking ahead to an exciting weekend. The clock seems to go that little bit slower doesn’t it as it counts down to 5pm, but much faster for the following 48 hours!
As the world of work changes, could that “Friday feeling” be hitting on a Thursday, or a Wednesday? Following the launch in June 2022 of the world’s largest trial of a 4 day working week, here in the UK, more employers are exploring adapting their standard working week to 4 days instead of 5.
Fundamentally, a 4 day working week is a reduction in hours, not compressed hours (working the traditional 40 hours in 4 days) for the same pay as 5 days. Campaigners argue it reduces employee stress levels, and increases productivity, with studies suggesting 78% of employees with a 4 day week being happier and less stressed.
The obvious questions arise: why would companies allow this; how will it impact on work productivity; what about the cost?
The shift to a 4 day week, like lots of adaptions in working life, is not as dramatic as it might appear. Employees across all types of organizations are already working “non-standard” hours. For example, those returning from parental leave or those winding down to retirement often drop down their working days.
During the Industrial Revolution working hours regularly topped 100 hours per week. in the 1920s, this dropped to 40 hours much quicker, and more dramatically, than a drop down to 32 would be now. However, whilst discussions around a 4 day week have been around since the 1950s, take up has not followed the shift to 5 days.
Many are now wondering, has the reality of working during Covid-19 accelerated these discussions? As employers battle to find more ways to create a working environment that keeps staff happy during the current “war for talent”, is a 4 day week the answer? Studies show 63% of employers found it easier to attract and retain talent with a 4 day week.
Currently, a considerable amount of the debates around a 4 day week are theoretical. There is not enough data to make a definitive call on its pros and cons, and different organisations will face different hurdles and successes. Some argue employees with a three-day weekend are more relaxed and less stressed whilst at work, and therefore more productive. However, others suggest the technology and workplace culture required to support widescale 4 day weeks simply is not there to generate cost effective results.
From 2015 to 2017, Sweden conducted a trial to test the 4 day week, with a number of nurses being given the opportunity to work fewer hours on the same pay. Much of the results were positive. The BBC reported:
“During the first 18 months of the trial the nurses working shorter hours logged less sick leave, reported better perceived health and boosted their productivity by organising 85% more activities for their patients, from nature walks to sing-a-longs.”
But the trial organisers accepted that a widespread roll out was not on the cards due to the cost.
Meanwhile individual companies have made their own inroads into the shift. Those such as Atom Bank, a North-East based fintech bank, became the UKs largest company to introduce a 4 day week, in November 2021. There, employees standard hours dropped from 37 to 34 per week, with no change in salary.
The Trade Union Congress has called for more trials of a 4 day week, explaining:
“We know that some people are pessimistic about whether technology will make their lives better but technology could be a force for good, we can also make everyone’s working lives better and richer.
[…] It doesn’t have to be about surveillance and exploitation. This could be about creating more satisfying work.”
In the current UK trial, more than 3,300 employees at 70 UK companies have begun a 4 day week, with no loss of pay. It is running for 6 months and mirrors trials seen in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It was a technological revolution that brought the 5 day working week, the current development of AI and automation may deliver the next shift!
It is unlikely an international shift to 4 days will be happening imminently, but the results will no doubt be interrogated and studied by those across the political spectrum to understand whether a 4 day working week will be more common in the future.
The ‘Great Resignation’ is affecting organisations of all shapes and sizes. If you are considering ways to attract or keep staff and want to explore how a shift in working hours could affect your organization, contact our specialist HR and Employment law team to discuss options and how this could be explored.
Image credit: Hansjörg Keller @ Unsplash