Following the unprecedented global pandemic that began in 2020, businesses across the world have had to rapidly adapt and become familiar with the new world of work. A big part of this has been flexible working, which includes being able to start and finish work at times other than the traditional “9am to 5pm”or working from home, to be able to balance personal priorities. In keeping with this new approach, the four-day working week is, for a variety of employers, teeing up to be an effective new process and has already demonstrated its popularity across several trials that have taken place recently.
What is it?
In June 2022, over 2,900 workers across 61 companies in the UK took part in a trial whereby they worked four-day weeks, for six months. It was led by a campaigning group called 4 Day Week Global and monitored by academics from the University of Cambridge and Boston College. They aimed to radically change the world of work with a reconfigured working week.
The group claimed that this approach would work towards improving business productivity, improving health, building stronger family and community ties, challenging gender equality issues, and building sustainability. Employers participating in the trial agreed to what has been trademarked as the 100-80-100 model. This means that employers in the trial committed to giving workers 100% of their pay for 80% of their time, in return for workers committing to 100% productivity.
The format for the four-day working week varied across the participant employers – 4 Day Week Global reported that one such format was the fifth-day stoppage, where businesses require all employees to be in on the same four days to progress projects or specific work, and the fifth day of work is suspended. Another approach was where a staggered working pattern is adopted so that groups of staff would have alternating days off. Other possible approaches included a decentralised format which mixes these two approaches, an annualised format where employees would work varying hours each week but which average 32 per week, and a conditional approach, which is dependent on ongoing individual or group performance.
Does it work?
Although the trial was due to end in December 2022, 56 of the 61 participating businesses chose to extend the programme, including 18 employers who have permanently adopted the four-day working week. 4 Day Week Global surveyed participating employees before and after the trial. Key findings include:
- 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout
- 65% reduction in sick days
- 57% fewer staff left the business during the trial period
- 43% of the participants felt an improvement in their mental health in the UK trial
Despite the positives being highlighted, there are still some questions about the true extent of productivity. In particular, does the success of the four-day working week vary depending on the industry? Advocates for the four-day working week will be pleased to hear that participants in the UK trial varied from fish and chip shops to larger financial services and consulting firms. Clearly, the impact of this new way of working can penetrate a diverse range of businesses varying in sectors and sizes.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how a four-day working week will fare over longer periods of time and what other issues will arise. In particular:
- How a four-day working week will impact the provision of public services?
- Could this also lead to longer working hours in some sectors to make up for the shorter working week, which can also contribute to stress?
- How will holiday, and other entitlements which are dependent on working hours, be impacted by the adoption of a four-day working week?
You can read the report from 4 Day Week Global here: https://www.4dayweek.com/uk-pilot-results