Many employers are watching a new trial of a 4 day work week which has been launched in the UK with interest. The rise of flexible working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen more businesses than ever before move away from the traditional 5 day, 9am-5pm, working model.
What does the trial of the 4 day work week consist of?
The trial will aim to measure whether employees are more productive with longer weekends. It will involve around 30 companies who, over the next 6 months, will be paying employees for their normal 5 day working week, but only requiring them to work 4 days. Similar trials are being undertaken in other countries this year. The trial will see if the extra day off will boost employees’ productivity sufficiently for them to complete their work within 4 days.
So does a 4 day week work? And if so, will it work for your business?
There is already some evidence that this business model works. A previous trial in Iceland was considered an overwhelming success, finding productivity and well-being improved for all those employees involved. Some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Germany and Denmark, traditionally on average work around 27 hours per week. A Henley Business School study in 2019 estimated a 4 day work week could save businesses £104 billion annually through increased productivity and uplift in physical and mental health.
The idea is also certainly popular amongst employees. Research suggests over half of workers wish to see permanent changes to working practices following the pandemic. With many organisations struggling to recruit key talent, the flexibility offered to employees by a 4 day a week may be a key benefit to set them apart. A 4 day week can also assist to promote an equal workplace, allowing employees to better juggle work and family commitments.
Whilst this arrangement can be attractive to both sides, there are several key factors to consider before making this move.
- Parameters – What will your expectation of hours be? Will this be reduced hours, say 32 instead of 40 per week, or working their normal hours compressed into four days? Can employees be flexible as to when they work those hours or must they be available 9am-5pm when at work?
- Boundaries – How would you ensure that employees genuinely have their days off? Will you set clear expectations that employees should not be contacted on that day other than in an emergency? What happens if the employee cannot get their work done in this time, how will you manage workloads, particularly if employees already tend to work overtime?
- Fairness – Can you offer a 4 day work week to all employees? If this would not be suitable for some roles, how will this impact the mood in your organisation? Could this cause resentment from those that don’t have this perk? How will you agree who has which day off if there is a conflict or manage holiday requests?
- Ensuring cover – For most businesses it will not be feasible to close for an extra day, instead days off would be staggered. This will often require close collaboration across teams to ensure that work can be covered.
- Impact on customers- Customer expectations and the impact on customer service needs to be considered. If your business model relies on customer relationships with individual employees, consider how this will need to adapt. Ultimately the ability to cover work amongst employees builds resilience within the business, but this could initially be time consuming, for example if training is required.
- Trust –Employers need to have the confidence that their employees will come up with solutions to ensure they can get their jobs done in a 4 day week. This therefore requires significant trust to be placed in employees that they will meet the business need.
- Implement – Changing to a 4 day work week will require agreement with employees as a contractual change. A trial period to ensure the option works from both sides would usually be offered. Clear guidance to employees on the expectations under this model will be also be needed.
- Measure – Employers should be clear from the start how they will measure success. Usually this would look both at profitability and customer feedback and employee well-being and retention.
As with any change, those that make the leap first will find this the most challenging, as they pave the way in predicting and managing these issues. However, if we see a greater culture shift, those that are ahead of the game could see real benefits for their business.
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