The benefits of a four-day working week
Innovative thinking emerging post-Covid is a redefined version of the four-day working week, a newer concept suggesting that employees work fewer days but receive the same salary. Remote and hybrid working models, continuous improvements in technology and a focus on personal wellbeing are the key drivers behind the initiative, which is supported by the TUC (Trades Union Congress). The idea is set to go global thanks to a not-for-profit community entitled ‘4 Day Week Global’, who report that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with the offer of a four-day week.
It’s important to note that this newer concept of a four-day week doesn’t result from compression of the five-day week, but rather entails staff working fewer hours and for the same salary. The employee is expected to work in the region of 28 hours across four days and have a three-day weekend. It’s not as radical as it might seem at first; indeed, working models have been evolving in line with better working conditions and regulation over the last 150 years or so. For instance, in the 1890s it wasn’t unusual for manufacturing employees to work an average of 100 hours a week. This had come down to around 40 hours a week by the middle of the 20th century, so, shrinking the working week to 28 hours could be considered as something of a natural progression.
The main benefits of a four-day working week include:
Studies have identified a strong correlation between the number of hours worked and an employee’s productivity, with the results indicating that preventing staff from becoming overworked and giving them more free time can actually make them more productive. In addition, as well as improving productivity, this new arrangement can increase levels of job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance and loyalty to the company.
The indications are that a four-day week can create a happier and more committed workforce, which in turn can lead to reduced stress levels, and therefore fewer sick days, as employees get to spend more time with their families.
Reduced carbon footprint
Removing one working day from the week inevitably leads to less commuting, which in turn benefits the environment. Not only that, adopting a remote or hybrid model and scheduling four-day weeks across the workforce may enable organisations to downsize their offices and reduce their energy usage and carbon emissions.
The key drawbacks of a four-day working week include:
Introducing and successfully implementing a four-day week can be expensive as it requires the correct level of support, as well as improvements in technology. It could also prevent an effective workplace culture being retained as employees have to adjust to not being in the office for as many days. Investment in these areas can also eat into profits if the transition isn’t managed carefully, although many businesses have already had to adapt to a flexible working model.
A lack of continuity over a full working week can present challenges in this area. Automated solutions such as chatbots and AI-powered websites can provide support in this area by providing an alternative level of support to customers, but in many sectors contact with a human being in real time is the best solution. That said, this can be managed with timetabling, which has been a key focus for improvement during lockdown.
As the four-day week is in its infancy, it’s frequently misunderstood, with people believing that it necessitates 35 working hours to be condensed into four days. That, however, is not the route to efficiency, as employees working 35 hours in four days are reported to experience lower levels of productivity, an inferior work/life balance and declined engagement, making them less happy overall.
For Carol Chinn, design partner at The Workspace Consultants, the recent press coverage about the four-day week is a very interesting. ‘As we emerge from the Covid pandemic, employee welfare is clearly very high on the agenda for organisations of all sizes,’ comments Carol. ‘Most people already work with some flexibility and I expect that this newly defined four-day week could be managed in a similar way.’