The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many employers to adapt the way they and their staff work. Changes to shift patterns and even the location where people work has left employers and employees considering whether there are more effective ways and patterns of working to maximise productivity whilst achieving an optimal work/life balance.
In the UK, the idea of a 4-day working week was first floated by the labour party during the 2019 election, pledging to move the country to a four-day week by 2029. At the time many didn’t see this as a realistic possibility. But as we navigate our way into a post-pandemic world, more organisations are considering a four-day week as a way to embrace flexibility and a balanced lifestyle for their staff.
But what exactly is a 4-day working week and how can small and medium-sized businesses implement it successfully? For answers to this and much more, read on.
What Is a 4-Day Working Week?
A four-day workweek is, ideally, a 32-hour working week with no loss in productivity, pay, or benefits. Depending on the company and the industry, staff might work Monday through Thursday and have Fridays off. Other possibilities include allowing each employee to choose their extra day off or having a company-wide policy of a different third day off, such as Monday or Wednesday.
Naturally, each business is different and whether a four-day working week is a feasible working pattern for all or some of your workforce is entirely dependent on the job at hand and whether sufficient staff coverage is possible.
What Does the Law Say About 4-Day Working Weeks?
There are no rules in the UK specific to four-day working weeks. There are, however, many regulations that can impact on the shift patterns of staff and the gaps between them.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees have the right to a rest period of 11 uninterrupted hours each day. On top of this, they must have 24 uninterrupted hours’ rest and cannot work over 48 hours in a week. Keeping compliance with these rules can present a massive headache to schedules and put even more pressure on managers.
The Working Time Regulations also entitle employees to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when they work over six hours. Many businesses will increase this to either half an hour or a full hour. There may also be other breaks at the employer’s discretion. These will need to be factored into any 4-day working schedule created by a company.
What Are Some of the Benefits of A 4-Day Working Week?
Here are some generalised benefits of a four-day working week:
Recruitment of Top Talent
Some of the best candidates for roles in your business might have caring responsibilities or disabilities which mean that a more flexible working pattern would be advantageous to them. Being able to offer a compressed working week could give you a competitive advantage and allow you to hire from a wider pool of talent.
Improved Employee Wellbeing
A compressed working week will leave staff with more hours to focus on their physical and mental health. Evidence also suggests that it is also likely to reduce working days lost due to sickness absence.
4-day working weeks can also assist staff who have caring responsibilities so they can juggle their working hours without of work commitments. These individuals may feel they are able to focus more on work during the compressed week in the knowledge that they will have a further day off every week to fulfill tasks outside of work.
Reduced Employee Costs
Employee goodwill towards your business is also likely to be higher with a four-day working week, due to the reduced time and costs of commuting and other expenses associated with traveling to and from work being cut by a fifth.
Reduced Business Costs
As well as a reduction in the cost of hiring office space when working over four days rather than five, you could also reduce office costs. In a trial conducted by Microsoft Japan (see later in the article for more details) there was over 20 per cent reduction in weekly electricity usage and nearly 60 per cent decrease in the number of pages printed by employees. This is despite the fact that general productivity increased.
Happy employees are likely to help business find as many efficiency saving opportunities. This can allow them to get the same amount of work, or more, done in the four days they work. Extra efficiency often comes hand in hand with higher productivity which can offset the reduced hours of working.
It’s Better for the Environment
Reducing the necessity to travel to and from work five days each week coupled with reduced energy usage on the day the business is closed can help companies reduce the carbon footprint of staff and employers.
Have 4-Day Working Weeks Been Successful in the Past?
That’s hard to say. 4-day working weeks in the UK haven’t existed really since before the Tudors, so contemporary evidence is scant. More trials are set to take place in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand over the coming years. Early research from Iceland between 2015-2019 found employees to be in favour of the four-day week. The researchers also reported the trial as being an ‘overwhelming success’ as productivity was the same or increased.
In August 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day week giving their 2,300 employees five Fridays off in a row. As a result of this, productivity jumped 40 percent and job satisfaction increased so staff took less time off.
It may be early days for implementing 4-day working weeks, but the early evidence suggests that they can be successful if they fit the company, the business area, and their workforce.
What Are the Drawbacks of Switching to a Four-Day Working Week?
The disadvantages of a 4-day working week may not be a concern for your business or there may be other specific negative impacts of a four-day week in your sector. As such, we can only really discuss the generalised issues that switching to the shift pattern might present. These include:
It Just Might Not Be Possible for Your Business
In many customer-facing roles where coverage during all normal working hours is paramount, it just may not be possible to offer a four-day working week shift pattern. This is often down to the fact that quality of service would be too greatly impacted, especially if you have a small team. The need to provide customer servicing at all times of the day may require you to be creative with shift patterns, something a 4-day working week would prevent.
It Could Be Expensive for Your Business
If your business relies on staff overtime to cover gaps in shifts, the reduction in working hours brought about by a four-day working week may be a prohibitive cost for your business. Trials of the four-day working week have shown that in some business areas staff working the same number of hours with fewer days led to companies having to pay their workforce extra to finish work not completed. This can lead to a financial disincentive for employees to finish work efficiently and can make employees less productive.
Employees Can Struggle to Fit Their Work into Four Days
A four-day working week may not be something all employee’s welcome. They may become unduly stressed if they have to compress all their work into four days instead of five and may prefer to spread their work out to ensure quality is not affected by rushing.
Employees May Find a Four-Day Working Week More Difficult to Fit Around Their Work/Life Routine
Many employees will have perfected their work/life routine over a long period of time and feel they have the right balance. They may have made arrangements in other aspects of their life, whether this is leisure activities after work or childcare. To disrupt this may not be in their best interests.
Complexity of Implementation
It may be complicated within your business structure and with the people you employ to implement a fair four-day working week system which all employees will be happy to agree to.
As a change to working days and hours is also a change to an employee’s contract of employment, it’s important to seek legal advice and make sure that all rules and regulations are followed. You will need to consult with employees and ensure you do not discriminate against certain groups, such as those who work part-time.
Before any change is implemented, you will want to:
- Give careful consideration as to how best to implement the change.
- Consult with workers about the changes and provide them with notice.
- Amend policies, contracts, and entitlements accordingly.
- Make sure you do not knowingly or inadvertently discriminate against any group or member of staff.
Greater Difficulties Managing the Team
Having a team who really know each other and the roles they each perform (which may include training and mentoring more junior staff) is vital for any business. Changes to schedules may disrupt this and make it difficult for some staff to be as involved as they previously were.
It is also likely that employees will want a Monday or Friday off, but if all employees want the same day off, how can the business operate during these times? A rotation system might seem fair but could be complex to administer for both employer and employee.
How Can I Implement a 4-Day Working Week?
If you are looking to switch over to a four-day working week, you have a lot of things to consider.
If you are a new business setting up shift patterns, the situation is simple – you can offer this pattern of work during the recruitment process.
The situation is a bit more complicated if you already have employees working different days and hours and now need to fit them into a four-day work pattern.
Here are a few things to consider if you wish to implement a 4-day working week at your business:
- First and foremost, assess whether a four-day working week could suit your business needs. You may feel it is great for your staff, but will your business suffer as a consequence?
- Is it actually possible to offer employees this working pattern? If yes, is it desirable for your business, your employees or both? This may involve some consultation with all or at least a cross section of your employees.
- Think how any proposed changes will operate and whether your plans will enable sufficient coverage to meet your business needs. Resources will need to be adequate throughout your operating hours so that staff can complete the same or an increased volume of work when compared to their previous working patterns.
- Consult with staff AND management. If you have any reservations about how the new working pattern will work, such as how well performance might be managed, consult and carefully consider how these drawbacks might be minimised by management and staff. Set clear objective policies and performance targets.
- Try it out. If you are unsure how successful any new working pattern will be, trial it for a period of time and consult with employees and, if necessary, with customers. This will give the business the opportunity to: See whether the new system is working. Whether there are any minor improvements that can be made to improve the system. Whether the system does not work at all and if reverting back to the previous pattern of working is beneficial.
- Look at any potential negative impact on customers as a result of the changes to working patterns. You need to carefully think about how customers will be affected and how extensive this impact will be.
Whether or not you choose to introduce a four-day working week, it can be helpful in the ever-changing economy to look at ways in which your business can evolve and change its pattern of work. This can help you to maximise the benefits for your business, employees, and customers alike.
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