The four-day week has long been heralded as a potential solution for some of the problems facing the jobs market, not just in the UK but around the world. Large trials have already been successful in countries including Iceland, and at multinationals such as Microsoft. Laying our cards on the table, here at Sapience HR it’s something we have long supported!
However, there are important things to consider when deciding if, and how, to implement a four-day week in your own company and organisation. Not least are the legal implications; it constitutes a change in contract with associated administration and cost to factor it.
This is not a move to be undertaken lightly but, with major trials now taking place in the UK, now is the perfect time to start considering the potential benefits and risks.
There’s now lots of hard data to back up what experience has long told us; that a four-day week increases productivity. Reducing presenteeism in favour of measuring outputs is the future of work, and will lead to greater staff engagement and levels of satisfaction.
The physical and mental health of the UK workforce could benefit enormously from a four-day working week. Improved levels of wellbeing should filter through in many areas, for example resulting in less sickness-related absence, more creative thinking and better customer service.
With many industries in the midst of a recruitment crisis, a four-day week might be just the thing to attract people back into the jobs market, or to stay in it for longer. A cut in hours for the same amount of pay could equate to a pay-rise for many workers, who can pursue other jobs, training or caring responsibilities in the time off.
The 9-5 model of working time we still use is essentially based on factory hours in the 1950s! As a consequence women are far more likely to give up work due to caring responsibilities at different times of life. “A four-day week would help to redistribute both paid and unpaid work between genders and help to address these injustices,” Aidan Harper (researcher at the New Economics Foundation) puts it succinctly in this article for The Guardian.
Although home-working has increased massively since the start of the pandemic, many people are now returning to their desks and long commutes. Four-day weeks could help ease carbon emissions from transport, as well as giving people extra time to live more sustainably and actively improve their immediate environments.
Some experts have argued that a four-day week could actually reduce flexibility and increase pressure on the workforce, who will feel the need to achieve the same – or more – in less time. Although written some time ago, there are some interesting arguments in this article about how seven-day working weeks could empower staff, allowing them to pick and choose the hours that best suit them. This clearly wouldn’t work for every sector, but here at Sapience HR we see the importance of keeping an open mind.
Dropping down to a four-day week for the same pay is a financial risk for most businesses. However, the evidence is stacking up that it’s financially advantageous thanks to increased productivity. Having fewer people in the office could also allow some companies to downsize with a subsequent reduction in costs.
Communication and Work Culture
This is definitely a risk to actively manage when switching to a four-day week. Employers and managers will need to have a clear strategy on how the change is communicated and implemented. Further down the line, internal communication will become all the more important to keep the wheels turning smoothly. Maintaining a positive workplace culture with a four-day week team will be key to future success.
It’s always a danger venturing into the unknown. However, as we’ve argued before, the most successful companies and organisations in the world embrace change, especially when mounting empirical evidence supports a progressive stance. If you’d like to discuss how Sapience HR could help you implement a four-day week, please contact us.