Four-day working week
01 December 2019
This article was featured in the December 2019 - January 2020 issue of the magazine.
Kirsty Caudle, people, pay and perks at Moore Feakins LLP, explores the arguments
Can the idea of a four-day working week really work? Let’s explore ways in which it could work and evaluate why it may not work in practice.
The first option would be to work longer days throughout the week. Theoretically the same work will be done and there would not be a reduction in anyone’s salary as there has been no change in the number of hours worked per week. So, this works well provided everyone is happy to work until 7/8pm each night – which is unlikely.
This method is unlikely to render the desired outcome of less stress and improved work life balance. There is already the commitment to work longer days to have a longer weekend but if there is a deadline looming then you are likely to work even longer and be so exhausted by the end of the week that having an extra day off becomes counter-productive. According to Jonathan Richards, CEO of BreatheHR, greater flexibility would be more beneficial than a shorter working week, preventing the stress of meeting a deadline (http://bit.ly/35KyXPH).
The next option is to reduce salary to cover the additional day off. Surveys have indicated that employees would be happy to do that. Of course, there will be many people that can’t afford to do that.
Maybe both of those options could be introduced through an opt-in method. But that can bring problems if people wanted to work the fifth day but not enough to sufficiently man an open business. Although if the plan was to stagger the extra day off across the week instead of fully close a business on one set day then this option could be acceptable.
Finally, there could be no change to salary or hours worked through the week. Just an extra day off each week. This method has been trialled and tested by a marketing centre in Glasgow which says the results speak from themselves: reduced sickness and increased productivity to name just a few positive changes.
...maybe a flexible- or agile-working policy is the way forward instead ...
More recently, Microsoft Japan tested a four-day working week. According to The Guardian productivity increased by 40% (http://bit.ly/2qEuMpH). And no doubt lower staff turnover, because you would be hard pushed to want to go back to five days a week for the same pay. This could lead to reduced recruitment and induction costs.
Productivity can be known to drop on a Friday, particularly in the afternoon when everyone starts to wind down for the weekend. There is an argument that this lull will just start on a Thursday afternoon instead, in which case the claim for increased productivity is void.
And will a four-day week really suit everyone? What about the working parents who pay for childcare after school each day? They may prefer a five-day week with an earlier finish to be at the school gates given the choice.
What would the impact be on client relationships? Some may say that it could be positive as their account manager is more likely to stay working for that organisation so there is an increased chance of a longer working relationship. There is also the risk that clients aren’t happy with the changes and want someone to be available every working day.
Not every sector can run a four-day working week. Will this lead to some jobs being considered ‘superior’, thus creating an unnecessary divide? That being said, according to a recent survey ran by YouGov (http://bit.ly/2KZlED3) 73% of larger businesses (over 500 employees) would support the move.
And what happens to holiday allowance? Do employers reduce that too or allow employees to have an extra week off each year? What about weeks where there are bank holidays? Will a week’s work need to be crammed into three days instead of four?
There is no denying from the studies carried out that it has been beneficial with increased satisfaction towards work-life balance, less stress, increased profits and staff wellbeing; however, it is a massive change to embrace and one that simply may not work.
It is easy to assume that the more hours spent at a desk, the more revenue must be being created. Will people be healthier? And a report by Autonomy (http://bit.ly/2qPy2hV) confirms strong indications that our carbon footprint can be reduced.
There is clearly no one-size-fits-all here; and maybe a flexible- or agile-working policy is the way forward instead of a blanket change. Britain has a culture of working long hours. We work more than anyone else in the EU so perhaps change is needed. But whatever the solution is, I think we are a long way away from the four-day working week being the norm.