Won’t see you Friday – Things we can learn from the four-day week roll out

I doubt anyone could have missed the big fuss around the four-day week over the last year or so. As the rumblings from the initial experiment around the UK die away, what are the takeaways, and was it a success?

The four-day week – A positive move?

Before we look at whether it is a positive move to drop a working day, it’s worth a moment to get a little perspective on what has prompted all the buzz about it. Back in June of 2022, 61 companies around the UK, ranging in size from local chippies to robotics manufacturers and institutions like the Royal Society for Biology, took part in a 6-month experiment to assess the practicality of a four-day week. Now that it has ended, the big question is, ‘was it a positive change?’ The short answer is that, as 56 of the initial 61 have extended the testing and 18 have made it permanent, we can probably offer a resounding ‘yes’; it seems to have been a huge success. It’s hard to argue with such large numbers. There is more, though, because not only have most of the businesses decided to continue, many are reporting some pretty impressive benefits.

The pros and cons of a four-day week

According to a report by the Henley Business School, there are multiple benefits to the four-day week for the employer and the employees. In fairness, the report does go on to offer some potential pitfalls as well, but overall, it is very positive. This is not the only positive review either – a quick ‘google’ will produce many more. Overall, it would seem that, if implemented properly, the benefits of a four-day week include:

1. Improved work-life balance and wellbeing for employees

For employees, the additional free time is going to be the obvious benefit. The most obvious working pattern is Monday to Thursday, so every weekend becomes an opportunity to spend more time with loved ones, do those odd jobs, catch up with friends and do all the things that create a great work-life balance. This, in turn, seems to be impacting on the potential for burnout and general wellbeing. Healthier employees naturally result in less absenteeism. In fact, the New Zealand financial services company Perpetual Guardian found that a four-day week resulted in an absenteeism decrease of 50%.

2. Increased productivity

I think it is reasonable to assume that a drop in productivity was the biggest concern about the four-day week. Remarkably, not only has this proved not to be the case, but productivity has sometimes increased dramatically, with 20%+ uplifts being reported in some cases. From the employer perspective, this is, of course, very encouraging. However, not to put a dampener on these figures, there is a caveat here about taking that number in context. Many of the preparatory exercises for a four-day workweek are about streamlining working practices, so it may be that the process of rationalising the working week had a lot to do with the results. The general improvement in wellbeing and work-life balance could also be a factor, as this creates a level of job satisfaction that is known to improve productivity.

3. Attracting new talent

This is one that is often underrepresented when the four-day week is discussed. The fact is that this working pattern is very attractive to candidates. Post pandemic, there was a clear shift in perspective of what candidates preferred to see from an employer. Much of this was focused on work-life balance and centred around hybrid working and ‘downtiming’. Candidates may well not be short-listing four-day weeks as a non-negotiable, but there is building evidence that it is a real attraction.

Compelling evidence but with a cautionary note.

All this positivity around the four-day week does make you wonder why it isn’t more common. Well, I think we need to remember that this is very early days. The response so far has been incredible, but I think we need to consider a few things.

Firstly, this is still a very new phenomenon, and that means there is no research to show if there is longevity in these initial results. It’s reasonable to assume that there is often a honeymoon period with new workplace trends, and that could skew the early response to the initiative. As the initial enthusiasm dies, we could see a shift back to a less favourable situation.

Secondly, and to state the obvious a little, not all businesses, employee circumstances or workplace environments are suitable for four-day weeks. In the end, this could well be the biggest barrier to implementing one.

So, if you are in a position to consider a four-day week, is it worth investigating? Well, you would have to look at the list of benefits and say yes. Setting aside the questions about long-term benefits and assuming you are prepared to implement the streamlining, HR and other measures needed, it could well be worth the experiment.

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