25 Feb The 4 Day Week: The Best Thing Since Weekends?
No one can deny the excitement induced by a bank holiday weekend, but what if a 3 day weekend was a weekly reality? Suggestions of a 4 day week have been bandied about since the 1960s but the debate has begun to be seriously considered in the transformed and uncertain post-pandemic landscape.
Boots first trialled the 2 day weekend at its factory in Nottingham in 1933 and after absenteeism and productivity improved, the 5 day week became its official policy in 1934. Could the 4 day week have similarly transformative results?
A firm in New Zealand tested this theory by reducing the working week to 4 days whilst continuing to pay staff wages for 5 days. 24% of staff reported an improvement in their work-life balance; 7% said their stress levels dropped and there was no recorded negative effect on productivity.
However, one US company switched back to their original 40-hour week after a similar trial.
So, does a 4 day work week solve all your workplace woes or does productivity take a hit?
How does it work?
Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
The idea behind the 4 day week is that rest, leisure time, happiness, focus and productivity all increase allowing the same amount of work to be completed in just 4 days whilst adding benefits for employers and employees.
“Eight hours of labour, eight hours of recreation, eight hours of rest” was advocated by philanthropist Robert Owen in 1817, but some have argued that in the 200 years since, many changes have rendered the industrial 5 day, 40 hour week redundant. Modern technology has sped up the way we work and made it much more flexible. Two income households are no longer rare and managing tasks like chores, caring for children and elderly relatives alongside work has become more complicated and stressful.
Advantages of the 4 day week
- Arguably, happier, better rested employees are less distracted and more focused at work
- Professionals may then have more time for personal development and upskilling
- Offering a 4 day week can make your vacancy more attractive helping you to recruit and retain top talent
- With 1 in 4 of us experiencing a mental health problem at some point in our lives and experts recommending rest, exercise and time with loved ones as potential mitigators, an extra weekend day can accommodate this
- Improved mental and physical health can lead to less sickness and absence
- A 4 day week can contribute to gender equality efforts by enabling a better distribution of caring responsibilities between mothers and fathers; evening the playing field by reducing barriers to women achieving senior positions in work; and reducing childcare costs
- One less day in the office can potentially reduce running costs of your business by 20%
- Costs for employees can similarly decrease in terms of travel and food
- On a larger scale, 20% less traffic on the roads can help to fight current issues of pollution and climate change
Disadvantages of the 4 day week
- What if a 4 day week simply results in a 20% decrease in productivity after employees overcome the novelty of a 4 day week?
- If employees are expected to meet the same targets in less time, will workers experience more stress? Will the lines between work and home begin to blur, especially given the increase in remote working?
- Reducing working hours reduces holiday entitlement
- Some companies have elected to adopt the 4 day week while retaining a 40 hour week leading to 10 hour days and potentially counteracting the benefits of happier, more focused workers – studies have shown that employees who work in front of a computer for longer than 4.6 hours produce smaller quantities of output due to fatigue
Is a 4 day week worth it?
The 4 day week is not a one size fits all solution for every company. The inimitable characteristics of your business must be analysed to consider whether the advantages of the 4 day week would outweigh any possible disadvantages.
Alternative adjustments that can boast similar benefits to the 4 day week include shorter 6 hour work days. A 2018 survey of 3,000 employees by the Workforce Institute at Kronos found more than half of full-time workers thought they could do their job in five hours a day.
Another alternative is remote working. Increasingly popular in the post-pandemic job market, remote working allows for a more flexible working arrangement and, therefore, can achieve many of the benefits of the 4 day week. When deliberating if this would work for your business, the following should be considered:
- Can teams work effectively remotely or is physical proximity preferable?
- Are there sufficient resources available should employees choose to work in the office at one time?
No matter how widespread the 4 day week becomes, the challenges and changes faced by the modern day workplace rival those faced by Robert Owen in 1817 and Boots in 1933. The solutions to these challenges will likely be equally revolutionary.