There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the four-day week with everyone from the Labour party to Microsoft focusing on its so-called benefits. But even though talk around the four-day week has intensified of late, not many organisations are formally working to this flexible working model. Some companies have trialled a four-day working week but have backed away from it due to difficulties in implementation. So just how hard is it to put a four-day week into practise? Is it the future of work?
What is the four-day week?
A four-day working week is when companies choose to close their offices on a set day each week – often a Friday – and instead, focus on increased productivity in fewer hours. In the Netherlands, a typical working week is 29 hours, and in Denmark, a municipality has just begun working four longer days rather than five. British workers put in one of the highest European hours with an average of 42 hours per week by contrast with the 32 hours a four-day working week would entail.
Is the four-day week a new concept?
Economists and psychologist, Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists told an audience at Davos World Economic Forum in 2019 that a shorter working week was not actually that radical as an idea. According to Bregman, policymakers have been trying for over 50 years to give more leisure time to the workforce and over 100 years ago business leaders had already started reducing the workweek hours:
“In the 1920s and 1930s, there were actually major capitalist entrepreneurs who discovered that if you shorten the working week, employees become more productive. Henry Ford, for example, discovered that if he changed the working week from 60 hours to 40 hours, his employees would become more productive, because they were not that tired in their spare time.”
Is a four-day week in demand in the UK?
The world of work is going through massive change, particularly with advances in technology and the desire to cut carbon emissions – working from home has become customary in many professions. Some parents often find a day at home enables them to be with their children one day a week, helping to cut down on childcare expenses and give them valuable time to do the school run.
From a company’s perspective, Deloitte’s Future of Work Report shows millennial employees value flexible working over cash incentives, and in a shrinking candidate market, flexibility is key to attracting talent when hiring and retaining talent.
Four days or reduced days can be an essential working pattern for many women returning to work post having a baby. From a company’s perspective, A 4-day working week can help to keep the pipeline of female talent fluid, so more women stay in the world of work and progress their careers – something that can only help to increase diversity, close the gender pay gap once and for all long-term.
What are the benefits of a 4-day working week?
You can be more productive as a business
Productivity is said to be boosted when staff are happy and healthy. In Japan, the four-day working week has taken off with Microsoft reporting a 40% gain in productivity since cutting working hours by 20%.
You can stop pretending to work on Fridays
Many companies often find that Fridays simply aren’t productive, with reports of longer lunches and process meetings taking much longer than usual because of a weekend vibe in the office. With Fridays taken off the agenda, your employees will need to be more focused the rest of the week, but they will be more rested and energised to help them do this.
You can retain staff who would otherwise leave
Some businesses are also finding that a four-day week means they can retain talent who require a day off each week to care for children or ageing parents, or even to follow side projects and keep up with hobbies.
You can help to close the gender pay gap
This is similar to the point above, but we feel it is important to give it a stand out bullet point here: when new parents feel they can stay in their current roles without having to take a career break (unless they definitely want one), it means they stay an important part of the UK’s workforce. And that could even help them to potentially enter the boardroom one day.
You can improve well-being and reduce stress
When staff commute less and have a three-day weekend, they have more energy to devote to tasks at hand and again, productivity is enhanced. Businesses lose massively when staff go off with stress and sickness, something that currently costs the UK economy billions each year.
You will make more money long-term
Recruitment and absence costs UK businesses big, so if you can look after the staff you have by implementing a shorter working week, you can see your business gain in the long-run.
How can you put a four-day working week into practise?
It all sounds good on paper, but how can you put the four-day week into practise and have successful results – unlike the Wellcome Trust, who found it too hard to implement in reality?
Pay people the same for working four days as they do for five
One of the key issues is how much staff get paid. Some companies think they should pay less for fewer hours, but as already outlined, the work hours will be the same, just in a more concentrated number of days. Moreover, the work will be of a higher quality, and staff shouldn’t feel they have to afford to take a hit financially if you want to change the way you work.
Make sure people aren’t pressured into working on their day off
If you want to cut working hours, then model that behaviour. Let staff see that Fridays, or the weekday day you choose to close, become respected as the day off. Don’t expect people to be checking emails on their day off, so put policy into place that helps workers to respect this. Regular team catch ups can help to share working practises and best advice so staff stay focused on the greater good of the changes.
Keep clients at the centre of business communications so they ‘get it’
When you communicate working changes to employees, make sure clients get the full picture of why your working week is altering and how it will impact them. Show you’re putting clients, third parties and external organisations in the frame, and people will respect your forward-thinking approach to the new format. Communication is key to ensure a smooth process when it comes to implementing behavioural change.
Review your technology and offer training if needs be
When you work using the latest technology, you may find that tasks become quicker and easier to complete. New communication tools like Slack and Zoom can lead to greater efficiency generally, will fewer emails – often known as non-productive time. However, internal training may be required to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Be as flexible as possible
Deborah O’Sullivan, Managing Director at Ten2Two says, “To date, Ten2Two clients haven’t seen the need to be so rigid to impose a set time for working for all employees. Instead, the businesses we work with have often found it is better to flex working patterns based on individuals’ requirements and skill set. So if a highly skilled candidate wants to work a four-day week and can fulfil their objectives in that time, great. But if they want to work five days a week, that’s great too.”
Whether you decide to implement a formal four day working week in your company or explore additional flexibility for your employees in their working hour patterns, we know it can be beneficial for your entire company, including your current and future employees.
If you’d like to learn more about flexible working patterns for your business, please contact Ten2Two today. We offer flexible working consultancy and would be more than happy to work with you to implement a reduced working week or flexible hours within your business.