Welcoming a 4-day working week
Written by Jennifer Ormond

Welcoming a 4-day working week

How would you feel about a 4-day working week? Allowing your employees to finish on a Thursday, enjoy a 3 day weekend, whilst still paying their same rate of pay? In this article, we discuss the pros and cons, plus alternatives. Does a 4 day work week only really work in principle?

The popularity of a 4 day work week has come alight over the past few years, with the disruption of the pandemic transforming the way we work almost overnight. Businesses are now after the ‘sweet spot’ of adapting back to a new sense of normality post-Covid-19, whether that be hybrid working, flexible working, full-time working from home, or a full return to office life. A 4-day working week is designed to boost efficiency across the workforce and allows for a better work-life balance.

More countries on board

More recently in the press, Scotland is now in the works of trialling a £10 million pilot of a four-day workweek following a campaign promise made by the Scottish National Party. This follows success from the positive results of other countries including Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan. There will be no loss of pay to the employees during the trial and will have a focus on office-based jobs, however other sectors are being considered so nobody is left out.

In Japan, the results from their trial of a four-day working week were astounding. They saw a 40% increase in productivity with electricity costs falling by 23% and 60% fewer pages were printed.  Japan also put their meetings on a ‘diet’ for the trial and only allowed 30-minute meetings to help boost the efficiency.

The detriment

Although all of the above sounds perfect, in an ideal world. There are a number of factors to consider as an employer before considering a 4-day workweek.

Can you meet business demands if you implement a 4-day week?

It’s very difficult for a business that provides a service to limit its offering to 4 days a week only – there’d almost certainly be a loss of clients.   It’s impossible in certain sectors (retail and care) and so in order to run efficiently, the 4-day week is dependent on staff.

The staff have to be willing to work 4 days as rota’d or instructed including over the weekend – not just Monday to Thursday.  The staff have to be willing to cooperate with handovers and work efficiently as part of a team.  There is more scope for staff tension with the hours worked as well as each other when picking up work leftover.

If you manage your team well a 4-day week for employees but with a business operating on 5 or 7 days can be productive but it certainly requires more hand-on management time!

Reduced annual leave

An employee who is contracted to 5.6 weeks annual leave a year will receive 28 days holiday if they work 5 days a week.  If their days are reduced to 4 days a week, they will only benefit from 20 days holiday.  If bank holidays fall on their normal working day, they will only have 12 days to book at their own leisure.

A reduced annual leave entitlement may therefore counter any benefits of moving to a 4-day week. Employers also need to ensure that they confirm any alterations to the annual leave entitlement in writing.

Increased hours on the days in work?

Studies have shown that in order for a 4-day working week to be effective it should also include a reduction in hours, 4 days at 7.5 hours a day.  It is not effective to increase the workdays by the hours sacrificed on the fifth day but this does seem to be an emerging pattern.

In order to be effective, workloads should also be reduced.  Even if the hours of work are not extended over 4 days unless the workload is reduced employees will feel compelled to stay late and complete their work.  There is likely to be a decrease in productivity and an increase in stress unless businesses actually reduce hours and work to 4 days a week.

Right to switch back if it fails?

It may be that a business decides to trial a 4-day working week.  The biggest potential pitfall for employers is doing so without having the right to switch back if the trial is unsuccessful.

Losing staff to other industries

Finally, if a 4-day working week becomes popular there is a risk that businesses who cannot accommodate reduced work patterns will lose staff to industries that can.  It might force employers to consider other options to increase work-life balance or other benefits for staff if they cannot work to a 4-day week pattern as popularised in the media.

Alternatives to a 4-day working week

If you are wanting to offer your staff a greater work-life balance, hybrid working and flexible working are alternative options. Click below to read more.

Hybrid Working: Is hybrid working the future?

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