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Thousands of workers across the UK will soon be getting a taste of what it may be like to enjoy a three-day weekend. Around 30 UK companies have joined a pilot scheme to trial a four-day working week for six months. This means employees get a shorter working week and longer weekend.
There has long been debate about the potential benefits of a shorter working week. Now, more and more companies are considering taking the plunge and testing it out for themselves. Campaigners claim that a four-day week offers many benefits, including increased productivity and improved health and wellbeing. But the UK isn’t the first to review its working week. Four-day workweeks have already proved successful in other countries around the globe. Campaigners are hoping that UK employers will recognise the benefits too.
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The 4 Day Week Global project is the brainchild of researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College, Oxford University and the think tank Autonomy. It was created in 2018 to develop a new way of working to help improve productivity, boost employee physical and mental health and create a more sustainable work environment. Campaigners say that working fewer days means you have more time to spend with your families and friends. A longer weekend also gives you more time to rest before returning to work.
Employees working at companies taking part in the trial, running from June to December 2022, don’t have to worry about any loss of pay. But while they will have to reduce the number of days they work, they will still be effectively working the same hours per week. For instance, rather than five eight hour shifts from Monday to Friday, they will work 10-hour shifts over four days. The concept behind this initiative is known as the 100:80:100 model.
Employees receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their time, but they must commit to 100% productivity. Similar trials are already taking place in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland and Spain.
Many businesses have been keen to trial the idea of a four-day working week, swayed by the idea that it could boost productivity and employee wellbeing. The trial is expected to last for six months, and employers taking part will receive support from researchers, academics and experts. UK companies that are accredited four-day week employers under the 4 Day Week Campaign’s initiative include; 3D Issue , Advice Direct Scotland, Atom Bank, Canon, The Circle, Venture Stream and YWCA.
The majority of these companies are “Gold Standard” employers who offer their employees a permanent 32-hour (or less) four-day week, with no reduction in pay.
Any UK employees unsure of the virtues of a condensed workweek only need to look abroad for encouragement. The idea of a four-day workweek has already been successful in many countries around the globe.
Iceland ran two trials of reduced working weeks between 2015 and 2019. Weekly working hours for 2,500 employees were reduced from 40 to 35 hours, without any loss in pay. The trials were considered an “overwhelming success” with increased employee wellbeing and no decline in productivity or performance. Since the trial, 86% of Iceland’s workforce now work shorter hours or have been given the option to reduce their hours.
In 2019, Microsoft began trialling a four-day week for its employees in Japan. The company also took steps to reduce meeting times by half. The trial led to increased productivity, with sales rising per employee by 40% compared with the year before. The company also saw a 23% savings boost in its electricity costs. The success of the four-day week work trial was part of why the Japanese government recommended employers move to a four-day working week, as officials believed it would improve employees’ work-life balance.
An estate planning firm in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian, adopted a four-day working week in 2018 after a successful trial that saw productivity rise by 20%. Manufacturer Unilever is also running trials, with the country’s prime minister suggesting other companies in New Zealand move to this new model of work to improve work-life balance.
Four-day workweek campaigners believe that the traditional five-day workweek no longer suits the way we work today. And there are some undeniable benefits to working fewer days, for example:
A three-day weekend gives employees more free time to do what they love outside of work, even if that’s just enjoying an extra lie-in. For instance, when Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand trialled a four-day week, 78% of workers found it easier to balance their work and home life. Imagine what an extra day’s R&R could mean for your employees?
Weekends never seem long enough to fit in everything we need to do and can leave us feeling exhausted by Sunday evening. A longer weekend gives employees more time to recharge and focus on their health and wellbeing and spend quality time with friends and family.
A four-day week can mean far more than just an extra lie-in for some employees. Around two million people in the UK are not working due to childcare, and 89% are women. A four-day workweek creates more of an equal workplace as employees can better balance their care and work commitments guilt free.
Researchers who spent four years tracking 2,500 employees working a reduced week found that productivity improved as staff felt more fulfilled.
If the office is closed for one extra day a week, running costs will naturally drop. For UK businesses, a four-day working week could save them around £104 billion a year. Employees will also pay less for their commute and benefit from reducing daily expenses, such as drinks and lunch while at work.
A shorter working week means that employees would drive an average of 557.8 million less miles per week, leading to fewer transport emissions and a lower carbon footprint.
While there are significant advantages to a four-day working week, it also has some drawbacks. For example:
A four-day week isn’t necessarily suitable for every type of business. Moving to four days will mean re-adapting the entire business to this new way of working, which may not work for some business models.
Many companies provide a 24/7 service to customers. Introducing a shorter workweek could negatively impact the way customers access a company’s service, leading to poor customer satisfaction.
Reducing the working week to four days does not automatically mean that employees will work less. Most people will still have to work the same hours a week, but condensed into four days rather than five. For instance, this could mean an eight-hour shift increasing to ten hours. Longer working days can impact an employee’s productivity, stress and overall health and wellbeing.
The concept of a four-day working week has already proven successful in several countries and within some UK businesses. But while a UK-wide four-day workweek may still be some time away, this trial could encourage more employers to consider it a viable option.
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