Should we now move to a four-day working week?

It’s an idea which has been kicked around for years, but now with the context of a global pandemic having forced a shift in working patterns and employer attitudes, could the four-day work week become a reality for everyone?

The UK works more hours than any other country in Europe except Greece, with people putting in an average 42.5 hours, compared to the European average of 41.2. So could a move to a four-day working week with no loss of pay actually work?

What’s the idea?

The concept is a simple one – people are more productive when they work less hours, so working four days instead of five, with no loss of pay, should result in the same amount of work getting done, while giving people a better blend of work and home life.

The four-day working week even featured in Labour’s 2019 election manifesto, and plenty of trials have shown its impact, from Microsoft Japan working four days a week throughout August 2019 – boosting productivity by a staggering 40%, to smaller companies such as UK-based Radioactive PR permanently moving to the arrangement, persuaded by reducing sick days and a turnover which increased by 70% over a year.

Could a four-day week work?

However, in September 2019 a Labour-commissioned report said a four-day working week was “unrealistic”, citing practical problems with capping people’s hours, despite the clear benefits of working less.

The report was commissioned to investigate how legislation could be introduced to create a four-day working week and pointed to the failure of France’s attempts to limit working hours with legislation in 1998. Instead, the report said, Government should look for other ways to drive the change, including leading the way with the public sector.

A new imperative

With the shake-up of working hours, patterns and norms created by the Covid-19 pandemic, employer attitudes to many things have shifted. And the pressure on jobs and the economy might well have created a new imperative to look again at ideas which might previously have been quickly dismissed.

Now thinktank Autonomy has released research which it says shows that a four-day working week without any loss of pay would be affordable and beneficial to most firms with more than 50 employees. It says that higher productivity and raising prices would off-set any negative impacts.

A previous study published by the organisation suggests that up to 500,000 new jobs could be created by a four-day working week. The thinktank is pushing for the public sector to lead the way in changing to this new working rhythm, pointing to its effective use in Germany in 2008 to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis and fend of mass unemployment.

There is a huge library of research into the effects of the four-day working week, the majority of which seems to point to improved productivity, increases in wellbeing and a better work-life blend. There’s even a dedicated jobs site, Four Day Week, which lists four-day, flexible and remote-working jobs.

The CIPD, which co-chairs the Flexible Working Taskforce, is seeking to boost the availability of flexible working across the UK and has produced new guidance and tools to help organisations achieve more flexible working options for their workforce. Take a look here.

Would a four-day working week tempt you to change jobs? Has your organisation embraced a four-day working week? If you are already doing a four-day working week, what benefits has it realised for you and your organisation?

For a free introductory conversation about how to carefully choose the right role for you, give me a call on 07765 894040.


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