Should we work a 4-day week
Published by Jenny Winspear,
26 September 2022
I was recently asked to participate in a poll by a research company that asked whether I supported or opposed the idea of a 4-day working week. A 4-day working week was defined as “a reduction in hours (i.e. from 5 days to 4 days) for the same pay and benefits”. Now, this seemed like a bit of a rhetorical question to me. I found myself thinking there should also be one for business owners: “Do you support or oppose the idea to reduce all your employees’ hours but keep them on the same pay and benefits?”
This leads me to the 4-day work week debate. Can it benefit both employee and employer? Let’s take a look at the research…
Arguments for a 4-day week
Good for recruitment. It is a recruiters advertising dream: “we offer a 4-day week for the same pay”. Research suggests that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and keep quality staff with a 4-day week.
Improved wellbeing. Having a longer weekend gives you more time to spend with friends and family. A New-Zealand based planning company saw a 24% increase in employees reporting they had a good work-life balance after switching to a 4-day week.
No loss of productivity. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest reduced hours can positively impact levels of productivity. A recent UK trial had more than 70 organisations participate with a trial of the 4-day week: 46% of businesses said productivity had stayed the same, 34% reported a slight improvement, and 15% a significant one.
Shares the wealth gained from technology advances. The Trade Economic Union are calling for the government to take action to help people work less but get paid the same (thank you TEU!) due to the fact thatadvances in technology and automation have resulted in monetary gains for businesses, as well as less people costs.
Help with cost-of-living crisis. A four-day week with no loss of pay would help people save money on commuting and childcare, with an estimated saving of £1,780 per week according to thinktank Autonomy.
Arguments against a 4-day week
Impact on clients. For busy organisations who already struggle to meet all their client demands, or in service businesses where customers depend on consistent support, the impact of a 4-day week could be hugely detrimental and lead to loss of business and profit.
Not suitable for all individuals. Some employees may place greater value on flexible start and finish times / longer lunches / being able to leave for the school pick up / extra time to pursue a hobby each day. Flexibility is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you are focused on attracting and retaining talent, the best way is to be creative with flexibility and respond to the needs of your workforce.
Greater burnout and dissatisfaction. We have had a lot of public holidays this year, and I often find myself working longer hours on 4-day weeks to make up for lost time. The same major UK trial I discussed earlier that offered the 4-day week was on the condition that workers continue to deliver 100% productivity. This approach is likely to lead to longer, more hectic days with risk of spill over into the days off, putting people at greater risk of burnout and dissatisfaction, as well as further removing the separation between work and leisure time.
Not suitable for all industries. There are some industries that will not be able to deliver the same level of productivity in a reduced amount of time. Production workers for example are unlikely to be able to deliver more with less time, which results in a loss of profit to the business and invalidates the productivity argument above. It’s the same for nurses, road workers, any manual labourers, therapists, childcare – the list goes on.
To keep both parties happy whilst we adapt to new ways of working, I think the best way of realising the most benefits is to offer greater overall flexibility and ask employees what they want. Research is still just only scratching the surface of the impact of the 4-day week, and it can be a significant risk for businesses to make the move.
However, do bear in mind that Henry Ford first announced the five-day workweek for his company in 1926 (a radical shift from the typical six-day week) and look where we are now!