Is a four-day working week the future for the workplace?

By Brabners LLP

24 Jan 2023

Christine Lbv 2

Following our recently-held HR Roundtable, we look at the future of the four-day work week... 

Whilst employment and HR professionals have long advocated the benefits of agile working, familiarity with the concept grew rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as employers were forced to review every day working practices. Home-working and hybrid-working models have since become the post-pandemic norm and whilst many businesses are still working through some of the teething issues and drawbacks that these working models can bring, agile working is here to stay.

That being said, with ongoing recruitment challenges, the cost-of-living crisis, post-pandemic mindset and a new generation of workforce coming through (i.e. Gen Z and Millennials), the concept of agile working has since progressed in the UK with growing interest in the idea of a new four-day working week. In particular, businesses are keen to understand the benefits that this way of working can bring, such as benefits to employees’ health and wellbeing, a better work life balance, and cuts to travel costs and child care, in addition to the obvious energy saving potential.

Despite this, as identified in our blog earlier last year, some employers believe that it is counterintuitive to pay their workers the same to work less. However, according to the BBC in July 2021, it was reported that a trial of the four-day working week in Iceland was deemed an “overwhelming success”, with the majority of employers finding increased or the same levels of productivity. Following this, many other countries have followed suit with their own trials and considerations.

Here in the UK, a four-day working week pilot commenced on 6 June 2022, spearheaded by the four-day week Global in partnership with Autonomy and the four-day week UK campaign. The pilot includes 3,330 workers, 70 companies and is intended to continue for six months and is also being replicated across Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The pilot scheme recently came to an end and we await the data outlining its conclusions, however, three months into the pilot, 41 firms responded to a ‘temperature check’ survey seeking an update on how the trial is progressing.

Eighty-six per cent of those surveyed said that they would likely keep the four-day week policy going after the trial ends. Further, 95 per cent have said that productivity has stayed the same or improved during the shorter week. That being said, as only just over half those participating in the pilot scheme responded to the survey, the validity of these statistics could be called into question.

At a recently held HR roundtable event at our Lancashire office, the theory behind agile working and the four-day working week pilot provoked considerable discussion and debate. One of the attendees, Kate Hulley, Owner and Managing Director of Belmont Packaging Limited, gave us a real-life example of how the four-day working week has transformed the business (albeit distinct from the pilot itself).

As a local manufacturer in Greater Manchester, Kate talked about her interest in the four-day working week and how after looking into this further, Belmont Packaging began its own trials within the manufacturing arena in June 2019, prior to the UK wide pilot. This saw the manufacturing department move from a 38-hour working week across five days, to a compressed 38 hours across four days.

Following an overwhelmingly successful trial, which included positive feedback from their employees and no impact on the supply chain or ability to deliver to its customers (albeit adaptations were made to the business model to alleviate any potential impact) – it demonstrated a clear increase in productivity across the four days, therefore, in September 2021 Belmont Packaging transitioned the rest of the business to the four-day week, making this a permanent change. It has never looked back since.

The discussion around the table included valid concerns that moving to a four-day working week could in some cases have the opposite effect, including employees seeking alternative work over the weekends and non-working days, thus leading to increased burn out and absenteeism as opposed to employees feeling more rested and productive in the four days that they are expected to work.

The outcome of the pilot scheme is yet to be revealed in the coming months, subject to any extension that may be required and/or appropriate.

If you’re interested in attending our regular HR events and our newsletters, please subscribe via our website.

Brabners in Lancashire is located at Sceptre Court, Walton Summit. If you would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please give us a ring on 01772 823921, quote “LBV” and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.  

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