With the world’s largest four-day work week trial in full swing across the UK with thousands of employees and over 70 UK businesses involved, is the four-day work week a viable solution for businesses or just another trend designed to attract top talent?
According to new data from Job Board CV library there has been a 90% Year-on-year rise in the job adverts offering 4-day work weeks as part of the role, with 44% of the UK workforce believing that this will become the new norm within the next 5 years, and over half (53%) of them saying that they would be tempted to switch if the offering company had a four-day work week implemented.
With a response like that it’s not hard to see why some might feel this could just be a new trend to attract top talent.
But what is the actual benefit of a four-day work week, how can employers implement this without disruption to normal services and ultimately is it something that will stand the test of time or just fade away like so many trends before it?
Let’s take a look.
Benefits (and dark sides) of a four-day week
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Let’s face it an extra day at home to do the things we want with the people we love the most, of course this is going to make us feel happier, less stressed (unless you have kids), and ultimately in a better place mentally, as the saying goes you work to live not live to work.
So a four-day work week can get a big fat tick in this box….or does it?
Although on the face of it and extra day off work does sound great, that 8 hours of work you used to get done on a Friday that you now have off, still has to be done right, and this is where the dark side of the four-day work week comes in to play and companies need to really think about not just if they implement the four-day work week but how and why.
“The problem with these trials is that they focus heavily on maintaining 100% productivity from employees with 20% less work time…This could lead to higher levels of stress during those four days, as employees fight to ensure tasks are completed.” - Rich Westman, CEO, Kaido
This is a huge caveat of the four-day work week, because it is not designed for us to try and shoehorn 5 days into 4, it is there to give employees a much needed break, so that they are fresh and motivated, companies that try and do this will usually just end up worse off than if they just kept it to 5 days, as they notice sick days and employee turnover take sharp increase.
Mark Wilson of Wilson Fletcher Consultancy, who have been successfully operating a four-day work week for the last three years said “The key to this model is understanding why you are doing it.”
“We don’t ask staff to do five days’ work in four – so we’re not trying to make people do a compressed week. This of itself means staff don’t feel stressed…Giving staff the extra day off gives them the time they need to do all their personal admin.”
“The key is planning. All we ask is that staff come in at least twice a week (Tuesday and Thursdays), and after that, their time is their own.”
Ok so it might sound a little counterintuitive to say this, but a study done by Sanford University and a trial by New Zealand based firm Perpetual Guardian found that a four-day work week actually showed an increase in or at least the same levels of productivity by employees working one day less a week.
Although it sounds a little strange, the decrease in hours worked showed an increase in job satisfaction and a decrease in stress, which ultimately means your employees are more motivated at work, and therefore more productive within the time they are at work.This can be evidenced further by just watching some of the most productive countries in the world like Norway, Denmark and even Germany who on average work around just 27 hours per week, whilst the most industrious countries like Japan who are infamous for overworking employees sit around 20th out of 35 countries for productivity.
Again, there is a caveat here, companies who just compress the work week and require the same 35 hours of work to be done but now in a four day window instead of five, just create increased levels of stress amongst their employees and in turn create a less motivated, happy and less productive workforce - So how can employees win, or are they just doomed to accept they need to pay more for less in the name of keeping great talent?
A happy side-effect of the four-day work week is that we commute less, spend less time away from the family this means less money spent on travel which if you commute to London can be around £10,000 less per year for many, and with the rising cost of fuel even more if you drive for more than 40 mins.
For employees with children this could see huge savings, as childcare is disgustingly expensive and could see families save upto £400 per month alone on childcare fees - although this does mean you need to look after your child whilst potentially working, so I’ll let you decide if this is still worth paying.
Dark side of a four-day work week
out of sight, out of mind
There are definite dark sides to all these latest developments on employee work-life balance solutions like working from home or less days in the office, and one is the idea of “my employer is seeing less of me, so they feel they are getting less from me”
People are naturally social, and naturally we socialise physically (and i don’t mean touching, just in the same room), i.e we prefer it when someone is actually in the same physical space as us, this is something that remote working technologies just haven’t been able to fully solve (yet, the metaverse is on the way), and so without this physical interaction, it becomes hard to form bonds or even fully comprehend that somebody is actually working - This creates a feeling like someone isn’t pulling their weight, or isn’t really involved, even if they are.
Another dark-side is the issue of culture,if everyone is out of the office, working remotely or whatever it may be, how can employers build organisational culture?
Additionally, with everyone working harder to get tasks done in four days instead of five, there is less time for general conversation between employees, and yes it may sound like this is good thing for productivity, but it kills culture, and team bonding and ultimately takes away opportunity for cross department collaboration & innovation, essentially office can be come a little like ghost towns.
How can employers get the most out of the four-day work week
Let’s be clear, the four-day work week may not be for everyone, it’s not a one-size fits all solution, but there is going to be a big shift in the way employers need to look at employee work life. - Ultimately there needs to be a shift from a culture of presenteeism and one to productivity, i.e stop thinking about your employees work week in hours completed and more in work completed.
Don’t rush into it
A key starting place a company should do is speak to its employees before making any radical changes, to better understand what they want and take those views on board, for many employees they might simply not be able to do what is needed in four-days, so organisations may need to rethink how they project manage, either to allow for for the additional rest time of their employees or even hiring more team members to help even the load to accommodate.
“Gone are the days of leaving the office late on a Friday, weary from the week with two days to recover before doing it all over again.” - Neil Ward, Head of Resourcing, MRL Consulting
Make it their choice not yours, you might be surprised
Additionally, it may be that instead of there being set days for employees to come in, you allow the employees to decide, perhaps just giving one or two days in the office and the rest is at the discretion of the employees, you will probably find employees decide some weeks to still work a full five days.
David Stone CEO of MRL Consulting, a recruitment firm that has been running a Fridays off scheme since 2019 said “People can choose to work partly on that fifth day if they want to, so in this sense the four days are not set in stone. It's more that they are encouraged…We’re taking a pragmatic approach to the four-day week, using it as a guide to give staff control so they don’t feel burned out.”
Encourage the time off
To some there has been a discussion that the four-day work week is just another form of flexibility which many companies have already adopted to great success since the pandemic, however the issue we have seen with home-working is the lack of division between work-life and home-life.
The increased use of remote working technologies, have seen more and more companies using this to their advantage rather than the employees, with an unwritten belief that employees are now readily available at all hours in return for the benefit of flexibility, this is again the wrong way to do this.
In fact employers should at all costs try to encourage their employees to take the time off, switch off their mobiles or laptops and step away from work during these times, so that their employees can reap the benefits of the additional time off.
So is the four-day work week a fad for attracting top talent, is it here to stay? The short-answer is we don’t know, but there are definite positives to suggest that it is desirable for employees and if implemented correctly, will provide a positive impact for organisations.
Although four-day work weeks or flexible/remote-working patterns are definitely one way of allowing employees to reset and maintain a healthy mental state and work-life balance, ultimately it will be the move away from presentism to a more productivity focused working culture that will likely prove the winning formula.
There is one fact companies can’t ignore though, employees are definitely looking for organisations that offer something that allows them more freedom to manage their own schedules, both at home and at work.
“We’ll soon be getting to the point where they can’t get the great talent they need, because employees want to work this way, and rival organisations will be starting to operate on this basis too…Our own trials show that where four-day weeks work best, is when employees take the lead. They know how to manage their work schedules, and they tend to work hard to keep the perk in place.” - Charlotte Lockhart, Founder of 4 Day Week Global