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Could a four-day working week be successful?

four day work week, employee wellbeing

In June 2022, the world’s largest trial of a 4-day working week began with over 60 organisations worldwide taking part, involving around 3,000 UK employees.  Its purpose was to determine whether working four days a week instead of the traditional five improved employee wellbeing and productivity.

Firms taking part included office-based software developers, housing, food and beverages, workplace consultancy, skincare, housing, and recruitment firms.  The pilot scheme followed a 100:80:100 model of 100% of pay for 80% of working hours in exchange for employees committing to maintaining 100% productivity – 100:80:100.

The trial was coordinated by campaign group ‘4 Day Week Global’ who believed that the pandemic had changed many aspects of working life and that now was the right time to test different working practices.  Supporting the trial were researchers from Oxford and Cambridge universities, experts from Boston College and the Autonomy think tank getting involved.

Overall, ‘4 day week Global’ reported “looking at the current complete picture, the trials are rated very highly by companies, with productivity and business performance scoring well.  Revenue is up whilst absenteeism is down and the vast majority of participants are continuing with a 4 day week”.

Some of the key findings included:

  1. 92% of businesses are to continue with 4 days working permanently
  2. The number of employees leaving over the trial period fell by 57%
  3. 43% of employees reported an improvement in their mental health
  4. 60% of employees reported an increased ability to balance work and caring responsibilities
  5. Businesses saw a 35% on average, increase in revenues when compared to a similar period in previous years.

These statistics demonstrate that there can be a strong business case for introducing a four-day working week.

Furthermore, in our recent SME Business Survey 2022, we asked SME business owners what their biggest challenges would be for 2023.  Our survey found:

  • The third biggest challenge was recruiting staff (33%)
  • The top financial challenge was salary increases (49%)
  • The most important aspect of people management in 2023 would be employee retention (50%)
  • The biggest health and safety challenge was mental health (85%)

Whilst a four-day work week may not be for every business, those that could, it could be argued that it would be a significant measure to addressing these challenges.

Introducing a four-day working week

The concept of a four-day work week is radical, but both the pandemic and the trial period have shown that working and managing people differently can be successfully achieved.

As we know from our SME Survey, the top major business challenge is rising costs (51%), with managing and controlling costs (46%) and profitability (46%) being the top financial challenges.  Many businesses continue to struggle financially because of the pandemic and now rising costs, and so redundancies may unfortunately be the only way forward.

However, given that the largest cost to an employer is its people, a move to a shorter working week could help some businesses avoid taking this permanent step. It could even be the difference as to whether a business survives or not.

Apart from the financial gains, there is much to be said about the non-financial benefits that are associated with a shorter working week. As a society that is very much used to working 24-7 and working long hours; a shorter working week will undoubtedly lead to an improved work life balance for many, as the pilot has now evidenced.  It would allow families to spend more time with each other; people to take the necessary time out for themselves or to simply have more time to spend with friends. All of which would ultimately lead to better mental health and wellbeing.

The four day week and mental health

Poor mental health is increasing and is one of the major health and safety concerns for SMEs.  The Health and Safety Executive published data last year (November 2022) in which it reported 914,000 work related sickness absences cases because of stress, depression, and anxiety, which is 65% of all work-related ill-health cases and 17 million lost working days.  The ability to be able to offer reduced/flexible working and improved work life balance are known interventions to help build workplace resilience.

Reducing working time also provides employers with a wider recruitment pool when recruiting; enabling organisations to tap into talent they may not have otherwise been able to. We know for example, that it is still typical for the woman to take a break from her career in order to raise a family and so to offer a shorter working week will likely attract many women back into the workplace. Overall, it will give individuals more opportunities, especially those from disadvantaged groups.

A further benefit is the impact on the environment; we have already seen improvements in carbon emissions because of worldwide lockdowns; whilst these improvements are perhaps temporary, it highlights what is possible with less commuting; whether this be by rail, bus, or car.

We are here to help

There will be of course, challenges that come with changing to a four-day working week, and not all businesses can operate it, but if you would like to explore whether this could work for your business and speak to a HR Consultant on how it could be implemented, you can contact us on 0844 324 5840 or get in touch with us here.

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