The 4 day work week – dream or reality?

Man working with 4 day work week sign in front of him

The idea of a standard 4 day work week with no reduction in pay or longer days once seemed pretty hard to imagine, but more than 3,300 employees across 70 businesses in the UK are currently trying it out. The pilot scheme is based on the 100-80-100 theory where staff receive 100% of their pay, reduce their working time to 80% but are able to maintain 100% productivity.

The trial launched last month and is running until Christmas, being led by 4 Day Week Global, a company who are aiming to create “a new way of working which will improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, stronger families and communities, challenge the gender equality issue, and work towards a more sustainable work environment.”

So, how does it work?

Together with researchers from Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University, 4 Day Week Global offers expertise, tools, and resources to support any company that wishes to trial the programme. Making the switch from 5 working days a week to 4 is a huge readjustment, therefore company leaders are offered ongoing training and mentorship as well as the chance to network with other participants.

The idea behind reducing working hours by 20% while retaining full productivity is based on the ‘work smarter not longer’ ethos which should see employees being more efficient at work because they are happier and less stressed or anxious due to a healthier work/life balance.

“A hundred years ago, we moved from working 6 day weeks to 5, and we’re overdue an update. The 4 day week is a reduction in the work week from a standard 40 hours to 32 hours for the same pay and benefits. This reduction has been proven to work for employees and employers,” explains 4 Day Week Global.

Employee absence from stress and burnout continues to rise

Currently companies are facing more and more employee absence due to burnout, stress, and other mental health related issues. The cost of this is huge and it feels like the right time to change how we’re prioritizing and scheduling our lives. We need to support the importance of better overall health and wellbeing and the impact it has on our personal and professional lives.

“The UK lost 17.9 million workdays in 2019/2020 to workplace stress and mental health according to ONS. And more frighteningly 38.8 million workdays in total due to work-related ill-health and non-fatal workplace injuries,” says Charlotte Lockheart, founder and managing director 4 Day Week Global. “I know our support of companies introducing a 4 day week, or other reduced hour weeks, will show the way of the future in time, simply by the sheer number of companies doing it successfully.”

Is the 4 day work week the answer? Possibly, but there are a number of things to consider.

The challenges of introducing a 4 day work week

Of course, one of the biggest challenges companies might face with reducing hours to 80% is their workforce being able to get everything done with fewer hours in the working week. The idea of being more efficient and ‘working smarter’ based on having 20% less time is fine in theory, but team members may feel a lot more pressure knowing they have a full day less to reach certain targets, and this pressure could have the adverse effect of what is desired.

Depending on the business type, there’s also the problem of scheduling. “While some larger organisations can implement A/B schedules where, for example, half of the employees are off on the Friday and the other half on Monday, this won’t work for smaller teams that need cover all week. Instead, there needs to be more effort invested in creating real cultures of flexibility, which can best serve employees without forgetting the needs of customers,” says Laura Baldwin, president of media company O’Reilly.

The impact on productivity of a 4 day work week can go one of two ways. Some companies who have implemented the model have seen a boost in output, however for others, things were a little different. Ryan Carson, CEO of online coding school Treehouse, started his company with a 32 hour work week but changed things up when he didn’t see the results he’d hoped for, citing reduced work ethic as a problem.

Some companies may find it easier to introduce the 4 day work week than others. The F&B and service industry, healthcare (care homes, hospitals, GPs), and companies that operate in shifts might find that limiting their employees working days to only 4 won’t work for them, plus startups and young companies that often rely on burning the midnight oil to get things off the ground might not be able to swing a 20% reduction in hours. For these businesses, other options to avoid burnout should be considered. Whether that’s offering additional holiday days, proper wellness guidance, counselling or other therapies, or even extended lunch breaks, there are options that can help your team stay well physically and mentally.

On the other side of the coin, there are several types of organisations who, on the surface, could implement the 100-80-100 model quite easily. Those who run on a more traditional ’9-5’ work week could allow for a reduction in hours and utilise A/B schedules to ensure all bases are covered in terms of customer and client care.

Is the 4 day work week the future?

Well, according to 4 Day Week Global and numerous companies who have made the switch from 5 days to 4, yes it is. 4 Day Week Global maintain that the 100-80-100 model can boost productivity, improve wellbeing, increase employee engagement, make recruitment and retention far easier, and establish companies as innovative and progressive. There is the other side of the argument however, and of course the additional challenges companies may face in both the short and long term that may impact their business.

We know that the combination of a healthy work/life balance, happiness both at work and in our personal lives, and having enough time for self-care all equate to us being the best version of ourselves, and perhaps the 4 day work week is the big shift we need to make that balance possible.

There will undoubtably be ups and downs during this period of change, but if the 4 day work week is implemented properly, with the support of an organisation such as 4 Day Week Global, it could be a worthwhile decision for your business to make.

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