Over 100 years ago, the working world changed with the introduction of a weekend for workers and 5-day working weeks became the norm. With experiments with a 4-day working week beginning to proliferate across the globe, are we about to see a further shift in the way we work?
The pandemic has, without a doubt, changed how people think about work life balance. In November 2021, it was reported that one in four people in the UK would consider changing their jobs, citing burnout and the effects of the pandemic as contributing factors.¹
The phenomenon is international, with workers in even traditionally hard-working cultures such as the US and China reassessing the role of work in their lives. In China the ‘lying flat’ movement has taken hold (simply taking a break from relentless work and doing something one enjoys, such as lying back and reading a book), particularly amongst younger workers who discovered the benefits of more flexible working lives during the pandemic². In January 2022, Panasonic was the latest Japanese company to heed the call of the Japanese Government to allow staff members to opt for a 4-day working week, challenging the stereotype of Japanese workers as being tied to work³.
Piloting the 4-day week in the UK
June 2022 will see the launch in the UK of the ’4-Day Week Pilot’⁴ . The pilot will run for six months and support will be provided during, and before the launch, to give guidance to ensure the successful roll out of the pilot, including tips on how to manage common challenges and misconceptions. In addition, participants will be able to network with other participants to share the experience⁵.
The concept of the 4-day week is that employees receive 100% of their pay, for 80% of their time, in exchange for 100% productivity. A key point is that employees would not work compressed hours, that is, the same number of hours in fewer days (which many employees already do) but will work a shorter working week for the same pay and benefits. Similar pilots have been run in other countries and the research has shown that productivity of employees increases significantly. There are also benefits to employee well-being and the employer’s carbon footprint.
The introduction of the 4-Day Week Pilot in the UK is a response to changes in the workplace that have become a serious topic of discussion worldwide. Employers, of course, retain a significant degree of flexibility in whether and how they accommodate individual requests for varied working arrangements (although they should consider such requests properly, and on their merits). But should employers in this post pandemic period, amidst reports of employee burnout and dissatisfaction, be seriously considering a wider change to their normal working hours?
There are a number of factors to consider before taking the plunge:
Giving employees more time to spend away from work gives them opportunities to balance their lives with activities that promote well-being such as sport, learning a new skill or volunteering within the community. Happy employees create a better working environment for all, and the chances of employee burnout will be reduced.
Attracting and retaining staff
A 4-day week is an attractive benefit. During a period when competition for skilled and talented staff is fierce and large numbers of staff are considering their options, a 4-day working week could be a standout element of what an employer has to offer, particularly whilst the idea of a 4-day week is still in its infancy.
Reduced carbon footprint
The UK has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Research by Platform London has shown that a move to a four-day week could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes a year⁶. Depending on how the scheme is implemented and how businesses involved operate, the environmental benefits are potentially very promising. Further, a 4-day week could also have an impact on how offices are used and lead businesses to question if it is cost effective to be leasing commercial building in cities, for example, if they will only be occupied for part of a week.
Allowing all employees, regardless of gender, a shorter working week, will enable many to share caring responsibilities more equitably, reducing the burden on women and the impact on their careers.
Part Time Working
Employers will have to give careful consideration to how they manage any pre-existing part time workers, many of whom may argue that in exchange for one day off a week, they already provide 100% productivity within their 4-day week for 80% of their salary. If that is genuinely the case, employers may have to consider increasing salaries to keep part time workers on the same level as 4-day a week workers.
Client and customer satisfaction
Whilst happier employees will allow for a better client/customer service, the amount of time available to deliver that service will be reduced. Client/customer management will be an important consideration for employers. How will their demands be managed in a shorter working week?
Does it work for all?
One size will not fit all. Certain industries and companies may be better suited to moving to 4-day working weeks, as client expectations may be easier to manage. The size of a company and an established culture of remote working that preceded the pandemic may make the change more straightforward.
A change in attitude to the way we work will take some time. But initiatives such as the trial of a 4-day week may presage a quiet revolution in the culture of work, to benefit employers and employees alike.