UK companies are opting for a four-day working week – will it work?

Workers at 30 major UK companies are to have their working hours reduced to four days – with no reduction in salary! The change is part of a trial sanctioned by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, hoping to shed light on the benefits of a shortened working week.

Here we explore the potential benefits and drawbacks that a four day week may bring, considering both employers and their workers.

Why switch to a four-day working week?

“We invented the weekend a century ago and are long overdue a four-day working week which would benefit workers, employers, the economy, our society and our environment.” – The 4 Day Week campaign

The case for a shorter working week makes it more than just a ‘HR fad’. The 4 Day Week Campaign proposes a range of socio-economic advantages to the scheme.

Benefits of a shorter working week

Companies participating in the four-day week movement have both reported and theorised a number of interesting benefits:

Reducing employee burnout

Employee burnout is a critical issue for HR. This happens when employees feel overworked, and lack a healthy work-life balance – causing them excessive stress in carrying out their roles.

Shortening the working week may reduce the risk of employee burnout, promoting a healthier balance between professional and social time.

Boosting employee satisfaction & retention

It’s not difficult to see how a shorter working week could lead to an increase in career satisfaction, and long-term employee retention. Like any flexible-working initiative, a four-day workweek is an attractive perk for both existing employees and new candidates.

Offering sought-after perks in your corporate benefits package is a great way to keep up with competition in the job market, and boost employee morale.

Meeting your company’s sustainability targets

Environmental sustainability has become a crucial issue for both companies and their employees. A shorter working week means fewer hours spent commuting by your employees – a move that could cut an estimated 30% of individual carbon footprints.

Personal and public transportation accounts for more than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not hard to see how reducing working hours could quickly reduce the number of cars/buses on the road at any one time.

Potential drawbacks of a shorter working week

Any big societal change is bound to have its drawbacks. Here’s what we need to consider before implementing the ‘four-day workweek’ on a wider basis.

Reduced hours may mean an increased workload

Reducing working hours for your employees could actually lead to more pressure on their remaining workdays.

The demands of your business will likely remain the same, no matter how many days your employees spend in the office. This could lead to their current workload being ‘condensed’ to four days instead of five, increasing pressure in their day-to-day roles.

Fewer contact hours could impact employee engagement

Flexible working initiatives are often criticized for their effect on employee engagement. Fewer hours spent in the workplace could lead to a ‘disconnect’ between colleagues and their roles.

Whether this is due to a lack of immersion within your company’s culture, or a reduction in face-to-face contact with colleagues, it’s an important factor to consider when making such changes.

Of course, no two employees will react to the change in the same way. A shorter working week will inevitably be a positive move for some employees, while others may struggle to adapt. It’s always worth looking out for those who may be struggling in order to counter engagement issues, and reduce the risk of departures.

In summary:

Companies across the UK are trialling a four-day working week, as sanctioned by researchers at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Shortening the working week is a controversial issue. Many, including campaigners, speak of its potential socio-economic benefits, while others criticise the scheme’s potential impact on productivity.

Whatever your stance on remote working, it’s always worth consulting your employees before making any changes. Carry out regular HR surveys to ensure employee satisfaction isn’t impacted, and use their data to inform proactive HR strategy changes.

It will certainly be interesting to see the results of the study; could we see more widespread adoption of the four-day working week?