The Four Day Working Week – Could it Work?

Today, many people will have heard of the four-day week; a company decision for employers to reduce staff working days from five to four without a reduction in wages. Whilst it’s a popular topic in a number of countries, very few businesses have chosen to implement the change. But why do people believe it could be commonplace before the end of the century?

What is it?
In its most basic form, staff could work less hours, and that with an improved work/life balance, employees will be able to lead more fulfilled, rested lives, resulting in higher productivity levels whilst at work.

However, there are several ways this can be implemented:
• Four-day a week business – the entire business closes for an extra day mid-week
• Rotating days off – employees take differing days, rotating with other staff week by week
• Same amount of hours, only less days – staff work the same amount of hours each week, however the days they are in work are longer

A little bit of history
At the time of the Industrial Revolution people began to accept the idea that time was money and many worked around 10-16 hours per day. Whilst a number of Acts were implemented during the 19th century to improve working conditions and somewhat reduce working hours, it wasn’t until 1926 that perceptions began to change.

Henry Ford took the plunge and not only reduced his employee hours to 8 per day for 5 days, he also doubled the pay! His idea being that working men and women didn’t have the time for leisure, meaning they wouldn’t buy things for recreational purposes, including his cars. This move resulted in industry specific workers flocking to join Ford Motor Company, and an increase in profit, motivating most other manufacturers to follow in his stead.

Why would this work now?
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently published a report explaining how workers in the UK can get a fair share from the tech revolution, of which is set to make the UK richer and change the world of work. Essentially, the belief is that with the increased use of AI and other technologies, our workloads will continue to be affected positively. Though some would say that the same technology has already resulted in people working longer hours due to having lost the ability to switch off when out of the office. How many of you can access your emails via your mobile or have a work laptop at home?

Another discussion taking place is that not only will staff be happier both in themselves and at work, they will also be less likely to take stress-induced leave. Considering this, surely it would result in an overall improvement to the nation’s health due to reduced high blood pressure and excessive alcohol consumption?

Other benefits that have been discussed include an improvement to the climate by cutting down times spent community and energy used to run a work space. Also, the potential to help ‘underemployed’ persons seeking to work more hours, possibly by job sharing. Though, if that were the case, how would it affect a business’ ability to offer consistency of delivery to clients?

Have any businesses succeeded?
Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand trialled the four-day week and later announced that the change would be made permanent. The CEO Andrew Barnes was inspired after reading research showing that the average British employee is productive only 2.5 hours a day. His staff were asked to brainstorm any inefficiencies in the company and how staff worked, and of course were incentivised by the extra free day each week.

However, another trial at a care home run by Gothenburg City Council found that whilst staff were happier and more productive when their shifts were reduced from 8 to 6 hours, it was too expensive to run. As the staff were working reduced hours, the care home were forced to bring in extra nurses to cover the hours as required.

Whilst a few companies have successfully managed to reduce the hours that staff work, so far they seem to be on the smaller scale in terms of employee numbers. In the UK businesses that have made it work so include a fertility clinic, a digital agency and a PR agency.

In light of the above, it would appear that not all sectors would have the capacity or the ability to support such a change. As an example, the UK alone already suffer from a shortage of nurses, albeit the causes include long hours and low pay to reflect the time spent working.

Is it likely to affect service?
It goes without saying that the level of service provided, as well as profit are the determining factor for businesses. To commit to four day weeks, it is imperative that employers consider trackable targets, performance and KPIs before running a trial period. However, many tools to track performance levels such as telephony / CRM integration services cost money. And in any case, wouldn’t this add more pressure to a business, if the staff are working less hours, how would anyone find the time to consistently track performance? Would businesses be required to create a new role?

How will clients feel about it?
There are a number of sectors where clients may not appreciate the inability to get in touch with a specific contact an extra day a week as it slows down processes. Imagine if the four-day week did become commonplace, professionals typically work weekdays only, therefore it again could affect consistency of delivery as previously mentioned.

Although a select few businesses have managed to work well with four-day weeks, it seems there would be many issues if everyone agreed to follow suit. For some sectors, in particular, the public sector the cost would be too great; staff are required to put in hours, no matter how productive they are in work. We need 24/7 healthcare available, children will still require teachers five days per week and the same goes for the police, firefighters and paramedics. Considering this, why would people choose to enter this industry when they can choose others and work less hours?

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