As reported on our blog in November, the idea of a four-day working week is gaining momentum in the UK. Last month, the not-for-profit organisation, 4 Day Week Global, reported the results of its six-month UK trial. With 92% of reporting companies confirming they will continue with the four-day week, the trial has been reported as a resounding success. In this article, we review where the four-day working week movement may go from here and what employers should be thinking about now.
What is a four-day working week?
The UK trial typically involved working hours being reduced to 80% (or full time employees working 4 out of 5 days a week) crucially without any drop in pay. The expectation is that productivity matches or even exceeds usual standards.
There are numerous ways to structure a four-day working week depending on what best suits a particular business, including a whole business shut down on one day, staggered days off or different sets ups for different teams or times of the year (e.g. to meet seasonal demand).
Why is a four-day working week becoming increasingly popular?
Coming out of the pandemic there has been an increased focus on work life balance, mental health and wellbeing, and employers’ roles in supporting employees on these fronts. Employers in some industries have also seen a talent war emerge as they find it harder to recruit and retain the best talent.
These conditions have arguably assisted the four-day working week in gaining momentum. Happy employees enjoying a healthy work life balance are less likely to fly the nest and join the so-called “great resignation”. For the moment at least, offering a four-day working week is also sufficiently unusual that it is likely to give a competitive advantage when recruiting new talent.
If it is correct that productivity is not negatively impacted, a four-day working week provides a way to recruit and retain without the cost burden of increasing salaries. It also offers cost savings in terms of recruitment costs and, potentially office running costs and, for some employees, potentially childcare costs. Of course, the more companies that make the move, the more pressure other employers in the same industries may feel to do the same.
Other benefits include reducing carbon footprint due to less frequent commuting and a potential social impact if employers use their time off for voluntary work. There is also a view that a four-day working week could improve equality by better enabling employees with caring responsibilities to manage those responsibilities around work and therefore remain in the workforce.
What were the conclusions of the trial?
The UK trial involved just under 3000 employees across 61 organisations. The headline results were as follows:
- Company revenue stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4% on average
- There was a 57% drop in staff leaving over the trial period
- There was a 65% reduction in absenteeism (i.e. sick and personal (non-holiday) days)
- 54% of employees said it was easier to balance work with household jobs
- 39% of employees were less stressed
- 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities
- 62% of employees reported it was easier to combine work with social life
However, it is important to note that these statistics are based on a relatively small pool. The survey response rate from the participating employees was only 58% by the end of the trial and in some cases, the no/negative change was greater than the positive story. For example, whilst 39% of employees reported being less stressed by working a four-day week, 48% reported no change in their stress levels and 13% reported increased stress. The retention and absenteeism statistics may also be skewed by the small populations involved.