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A Four-day Working Week: The UK begins 6 month trial with 3,300 Employees

Posted on 07 June 2022

About the Trial
The trial, that is being conducted by Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, involves 70 UK companies, and over 3,000 employees who will be trialing a four-day working week (32 hours per week) with no loss of pay for 6 months. The aims of the campaign are to boost productivity whilst improving work-life balance for the UK workforce: "We invented the weekend a century ago and are long overdue an update to working hours" ( 4 Day Week | Why?).

We’ll be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life.” Juliet Schor, Boston College

Why a Four-day Working Week?

  1. Boost Productivity - "Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion" Parkinson's law describes how long deadlines lead to procrastination and focus on low value tasks. Trials and studies have shown that employers who have moved to a four-day working week have seen greater productivity and reduced costs.
    A 2020 Henley Business School Study on the four-day working week "showed that savings of £92 billion are being made each year by those businesses that have already enabled a four-day week, with a possible saving of £104 billion annually if others followed suit" (Four-day week: a flexible approach | Henley Business School)

  2. Improved work-life balance - the extra day off allows employees more time to focus on activities that they enjoy doing, promoting mental health and wellbeing. Better rest, more leisure time, and extra time for life admin allows employees to live a more fulfilled life.

  3. Less Absenteeism - a happier and healthier workforce are less likely to need time off for health issues. The UK Health & Safety Executive reported that in 2020 mental health related cases (anxiety, depressions, stress) accounted for half of all work related illness.

  4. Greater Talent & Lower Unemployment - With talent acquisition and retention being a very real issue for many UK employers (Labour Market Overview May'22), a four-day week may be great way to attract workers, and improve retention. As the UK can be challenged by unemployment and overwork at the same time, the four-day working week may be a perfect solution.

  5. Boost Tourism - This is great news for areas like the Cornwall, the tourism sector will see a huge benefit from increased time for leisure.

  6. Environmental Benefits - research shows that switching to a four day week could reduce the UK's carbon footprint by over 100 million tonnes per year.

  7. Social Benefits - 89% of women are currently unemployed due to childcare responsibilities. A four day working week promotes Gender equality by providing more time for these women to balance family and work commitments. With more time to care for children and build relationships a shorter week would strengthen communities and improve the nations mental and physical health.

What are the challenges?

  1. Less days does not necessarily mean increased satisfaction - Although a shorter working week is a great benefit, the main driver of employee satisfaction is control, flexibility and connectivity. If the working week is shortened without including these critical elements the effects may not be as desired.

  2. Unsuitability & Longer working hours - A four day working week may not be suitable for all business', including those who need to operate 24/7. If the same workload is condensed into fewer days in order to free up time employees may feel the same levels of stress and the work-life balance benefits of the extra day off may be counteracted by working earlier or later on the working days. With longer working hours, rest breaks will need to be adjusted and increased.

Tips for Implementing a shorter working week

  1. Focus on Accountability instead of organisational hierarchy - by focusing on what your business is doing as opposed to who is doing it, you will begin managing output instead of hours.

  2. Don't Trial it, instead take a smaller permanent leap - once a shorter week is offered it is almost impossible to return to a longer week. If you don't want to commit to a 4 day week right away, you may want to offer every other week or introduce half days instead. At Smith & Reed we offer wellbeing time, which allows members of our team to take half a day off during the month at a time of their choice.

  3. Monitor Performance & Review Feedback - you will want to ensure that productivity does not suffer and that your employees are benefiting from the shorter week.

Other Countries with a four-day working week:

  1. Netherlands (Employment Rate 80.8%)

  2. Denmark (Employment Rate 70.6%)

  3. Norway (Employment Rate 77.4%)

  4. Ireland [Trial] (Employment Rate 72.3%)

  5. Germany (Employment Rate (76.7%)

  6. Belgium (Employment Rate 66%)

  7. Japan [Recommended] (Employment Rate 78.1%)

  8. Spain [Trial] (Employment Rate 63.9%)

  9. Scotland [Trial]

  10. UEA

  11. New Zealand [Trial] (Employment Rate 79.1%)

  12. Australia [Trial] (Employment Rate 76.8%)

  13. Lithuania (For Parents Only)

  14. Iceland [Trial]

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