Expectations on work-life balance have fundamentally shifted post-pandemic. Earlier this month, more than 3,330 workers at 70 companies in the UK and Ireland began what is believed to be the largest trial of a four-day working week to date. Employers taking part in the trial will pay their workers 100% of their salary for 80% of their time. In return, workers committed to 100% productivity. In this blog, we consider the benefits of a four-day working week for both employers and workers.
One of the most obvious benefits of a four-day working week is the impact it will have on work-life balance. A three-day weekend allows workers to have more time for the things they love such as family, friends, hobbies and relaxation and, in the pilot, this comes without any corresponding drop in salary. As employers are increasingly expected to place greater importance on the wellbeing of their workforce, allowing staff to have more downtime, whilst also producing the same output, is a potential way of achieving this.
A four-day working week should also promote equality in the workplace. Research from the Government Equalities Office suggests that it would be particularly beneficial to women. Approximately 2 million people in the UK are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities, with almost 90% of those being women. A four-day working week would better place workers to juggle childcare, or indeed other caring responsibilities, with work.
Overworked individuals can often be less productive than those working standard hours. Longer hours can result in less sleep, more mistakes being made, as well as “burnout” and lack of motivation. A four-day working week has been found to increase worker productivity in countries such as New Zealand, as well as improving job satisfaction and company loyalty. These studies suggest that this approach can be a win-win situation for both workers and employers alike.
Recruitment and retention
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen greater demand for flexible work patterns. Offering workers a four-day working week is a perk that would be attractive to many existing workers, as well as new recruits. Employers who are seen to lead the way when it comes to flexible working arrangements could have a head start over their competitors, enabling them to retain and attract the best talent.
Despite the potential benefits that a four-day working week could bring, it has inevitably raised concerns for some employers. Questions have arisen about how a four-day working week can work practically in industries which still need to operate on a five (or more) day cycle as balancing additional shift patterns could present itself as a challenge. If, rather than reducing hours, they are compressed this may actually turn up the pressure and result in decreased productivity for some workers. There could also be additional costs associated with a four-day working week, for example through increased employee administration. It is therefore important that the potential benefits of a four-day working week are weighed up against possible disadvantages. The balance is likely to vary considerably between different businesses. We will provide updates on the feedback from the pilot scheme which should help to see what the four-day working week looks like in practice. Currently it appears that many consider any potential negatives are greatly outweighed by the benefits.
See our previous article on the four-day working week and its implications for employers here.