The tide has long been turning on how we work and our expectations as employees and employers. With options for employees to work in a way that is in tune with their personal life, there is now more room to scope out new and formally dismissed ideas of how best to do it in a way that suits everyone.
One idea is the introduction of a four-day working week. Although not a new concept, with discussions as far back as the 1970s, Britain appears to have been slow on the uptake compared to other countries. But now, it seems like a natural step in the flexible and balanced work-life movement.
So what’s different this time? Covid-19 forced many of us to reevaluate what work means and how we spend our time. It gave welcome confidence to request flexible working and to argue a case in the face of rebuttal. It also forced employers to assess their offering, consider a new era of candidate attraction, and determine how to stay competitive. As with anything new, it will come down to trial and error to achieve an ideal package that benefits all parties.
The UK four-day working week trial
Launched on 6 June 2022, 3,300 workers at 61 UK companies of various sizes joined the six-month four-day working week pilot. Spearheaded by 4 Day Week Global, a London and New York-based non-profit organisation and London-based think tank Autonomy, the trial set out to analyse the response to an increase in time off with no reduction in pay.
Analysts from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College conducted research, looking at the critical areas of work-related stress, including burnout, health and wellbeing, travel and job satisfaction.
The trial is based on a 100:80:100 model – 100% of pay for 80% of the time in exchange for maintaining 100% productivity. To action this, companies taking part in the trial agreed to adjust working hours by choosing one of the following options:
- Gold – a permanent 32-hour (or less) four-day week, with reduced hours and no loss of pay. They can also spread the 32 hours over five days.
- Silver – a permanent 35-hour (or less) four-day week, with reduced hours and no loss of pay.
The trial came to an end in December 2022 and 4 Day Week Global reported that it was a resounding success, with 92% of participating companies opting to continue with a four-day week. On top of this, nearly a third of employees (71%) experienced reduced levels of burnout, and many reported increased physical and mental health compared to the start of the trial.
The pros and cons of a four-day working week
The advantages of adopting a four-day week may seem obvious. In reality, you’re likely to find that most people would opt to work less than they have to. In a survey conducted by Reed.co.uk in 2022*, we found that 89% of workers would be happy to work a four-day week.
A condensed week was an attractive perk last year and continues to interest candidates this year. In a recent survey** 34% of respondents cited that they would actually change jobs for a lower salary if a company offered a four-day week.
With health and mental wellbeing high on everyone’s agenda right now, the decrease in stress and burnout from working fewer hours makes a strong case for change.
Environmental and cost-saving benefits are on both sides of the employer/employee coin. For employers who may be sceptical, research supports improved employee retention rates, increased productivity levels, and decreased sick leave.
The cons? As with most things, there is no one-size fits all approach. Some industries and sectors may find it challenging to adopt. For example, with the healthcare sector dogged with busy A&E departments whilst battling ever-increasing staff shortages, employees may feel like a four-day working week is an unachievable pipedream.
Construction is another sector traditionally at the mercy of overworking, with 40-60 hour weeks not unheard of to get projects completed. But, for the latter at least, there is discussion around how making the culture shift to adopting this way of working can significantly benefit both worker and employer, attracting more talent to the sector and reducing physical and mental strain on those already in the industry.
Elsewhere, some are just not in agreement and want to keep things as they are. People are often creatures of habit and prefer the structure of a five-day week; some will find the rigidity of a four-day week no less stifling than five. And some employers may struggle to see how less time can equal growth and development in their businesses.
Will it help candidate attraction efforts?
A four-day working week will hugely appeal to many and undoubtedly shine a positive light on your candidate attraction. A four-day week is one of the top five perks that would motivate a candidate to apply for a role** (23%), alongside other benefits such as private healthcare (26%) and hybrid/remote working options (23%).
Success will entirely depend on the needs of your business. From social media management to hospital and respite care, there are bound to be industries that will require more thought than another.
When considering productivity levels, your already high-performing team will get the job done no matter what. However, there will be work to do before implementing such a drastic change if you have performance issues.
Then there is the case for your own market research. Do your employees support a four-day week? Or, will they benefit more from increased flexibility afforded by flexible and hybrid working options, allowing for school runs, extracurricular activities, and generally more fluidity around how they live their lives?
Both options are worth considering, and both are likely to draw candidates in. Flexible working is the perk that would most motivate candidates to apply for a role (32%)**, closely followed by a four-day working week (23%). And, as we previously touched on, when asked what would make a candidate accept a job for a lower salary, 34% of respondents said a four-day week and 26% said more flexibility.
So, in short, yes, a four-day working week will likely improve your candidate attraction outcome. Still, companies should not blindly implement it for the assumed improvement of employer brand and clout alone.
As another option to the traditional five-day model, the four-day working week will only work if it is monitored and implemented correctly, not allowing for overworking in those four days and, conversely, a drop in productivity. But, again, a tricky dynamic for businesses to balance.
*This online survey was conducted by Atomik Research and consisted of 2,004 adults in the UK (95% were employed and 5% were unemployed). This survey took place between the 4th – 11th February 2022. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides by the MRS code.
**This online survey was conducted by Atomik Research and consisted of 2,000 adults in the UK. This survey took place between 6 – 9 February 2023. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides by the MRS code.
***This online survey was conducted by Atomik Research and consisted of 251 employees with hiring responsibilities in the UK. The research fieldwork took place between 7th-10th June 2022. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.