Can the four-day workweek really work?

by | Apr 1, 2022

Future of Work | People Planning and Strategy
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Can the four-day workweek really work?

In today’s blog Evan from our team took a look at the impact of the proposed pilot of a four-day work week will have in the UK. Can it be more productive than the traditional five-day work week? What are the implications? How will businesses need to adapt their people strategy? How will employees react?

If you didn’t know already, the world of work has rapidly transformed. Flexible working has become the norm for most employees, with most organisations realising that they are at risk of losing talent if they do not embrace flexibility. One form of flexible working that has gained a lot of recent traction is ‘the four-day workweek’. Currently, there are some companies in the UK, preparing to take part in the largest ever pilot of a four-day working week and for approximately six months, more than thirty organisations will work eighty percent of their usual hours but receive no reduction in pay. Researchers will look at how the four-day week effects employee productivity, wellbeing and other metrics such as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

Trialling the four-day workweek

Several governments and organisations have previously trialled four-day workweeks. One of the most famous trials of this form of flexible working took place in Iceland. The trial lasted four years and included 2,500 workers ranging in industries from offices to preschools and hospitals. Employees were paid the same amount, but their hours were reduced from forty to thirty-five, or thirty-six hours per week. The results indicated that employees were less stressed and had a reduced risk of burnout. Furthermore, their health and work-life balance had improved as they had more time to spend with their families, do hobbies and catch up on household chores.

Certain companies have also trialled a four-day workweek for their employees. For example, Microsoft implemented a four-day workweek in their Japan office, with 2,300 employees receiving Fridays off for five weeks in a row, for the same amount of pay. Following the trial, employees reported having more efficient meetings, feeling happier, and had a forty percent increase in productivity.

Research conducted by the Henley Business School backs up these benefits to a four-day working week. Their study, which included 500 business leaders and 2000 employees, indicated that businesses could save over £104 billion a year. This was through the improved ability to attract and retain talent (specifically Gen Z and millennials), increased overall employee satisfaction, lower employee sickness levels and absenteeism and increased productivity. Furthermore, they found that two-thirds of employers offering a four-day workweek say their employees make fewer car journeys.

Given that there is a myriad of benefits associated with the four-day working week, why aren’t all organisations implementing this initiative? In a study conducted by Gallup, just five percent of over ten thousand employees said they work four days a week. You will find that there are several challenges associate with this form of flexible working; it won’t work for everyone.

The challenges that businesses must consider

One of the challenges reported by organisations who took part in the study conducted by the Henley Business school included being available for their customers. Eighty two percent of businesses say being available to their customers is the biggest barrier to implementing a four-day workweek. Another challenge that was reported included complications in managing four-day workweek policies. Research has shown that we all have different ‘boundary styles’ when it comes to managing the balance between work and home. This essentially means that individuals have different preferences, and optimum work-life balance looks difference for each of us. Managing this could be too tall an order for some employers.

There are several other significant challenges to be considered. One potential challenge that may be associated with the four-day working week is increased stress for employees. If organisations reduce hours for employees that already have a high workload, there is potential for these employees to report a heightened level of stress. Feelings of loneliness for employees would also need to be addressed. Reducing the workweek from five to four days reduces the amount of time that employees can develop relationships with their colleagues. Furthermore, given that many employees are now splitting their time between working remotely and on-site, this may be further exacerbated.

Get the balance right – practically, does it work for your business?

The key is finding the right approach that works for your business. The principle of the idea of a four-day working week has a sound basis, but organisations must think long and hard about whether it really is the right thing to do to get the best out of your people. Will it add value to the employee value proposition? Is it feasible for the work you do as an organisation? What impact will it have culturally, especially if your business is operating across international boundaries? These are just a few of the questions that you should be asking before you make such a profound change to your business.

If you would like to talk to us about your current people strategy, get in touch using the form below and we’d be happy to chat.