"The COVID pandemic has been the real trigger for rethinking the world of work. We’ve already seen people working from home and generous government furlough schemes. It has shown that the world of work can change very quickly if it wanted to."
Joe Rye Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign in the U.K.
The 4 Day Work Week. It’s the hot topic that's kicked off the UK's 2022. A trial is currently underway among 30 UK companies to trial this shift to the workplace for 6 months, providing research and data to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the process.
Image from the campaign 4 Day Week
What is the 4 Day Work Week?
Those 30 companies - which include Causeway Irish Housing Association and Advice Direct Scotland - will reduce the work times of employees to 32 hours a week, and record any changes to employee well-being and productivity. Currently, the study is concentrating on small companies, ranging from 20-200 employees and will begin cutting hours in June 2022.
The campaign has been set up by the organisation 4 Day Week.
It’s an interesting shift in workplace thinking (we all love the idea of a three-day weekend!) - but it’s not as simple as that.
"The employees of companies participating in the trial will be given their full wage and employee benefits for 80% of their time, while committing to maintain 100% productivity. Companies may ask staff to spread the 32 hours over five days."
The campaign is less about bringing staff into the office Monday-Thursday, and more about an overall reduction in working hours. Spreading the hours over 5 days adds an interesting new variable to the conversation.
How would the 4 Day Work Week benefit staff?
Perpetual Guardian - a New Zealand-based financial services company - ran the trial back in 2018, and have since kept the programme in place permanently! They observed that staff stress levels dropped by 7 percentage points, and work/life balance increased from 54% to 78%!
79% of the UK workforce has experienced burnout at one point or another in their working lives. That means there’s a good chance if you’re reading this, you’re having flashbacks to times when you were at your wits end in the office! Company culture massively improves with a workforce that's not facing burnout. During those inevitable peaks of the year where the workload piles up - the difficulties your colleagues are facing would be mitigated by the knowledge that you’re well-rested, and your work-life balance isn’t going to be affected.
At Jobtrain, we’re not currently adopting a 4 day week, but we have emphasised flexible working. Our team gets to finish at 2.30pm every second Friday, so we can start de-stressing and embracing the weekend. We’ve noticed productivity, staff happiness, and employee engagement grows just from this small change!
However, the UK isn’t alone in this trial – and the results have been fascinating. Iceland recently concluded a five-year-long study which found that an average decline of 100 worker hours per year, corresponded with a roughly 10-point leap in productivity - as defined in dollar terms - over the same 10-year period!
The UK is currently struggling to fill vacancies across the board, and standing out from the crowd is a challenge all companies currently face – especially SMEs. Promoting yourself as a 4-day workplace could push you to the front of the queue in a candidate’s eyes! Here’s a benefit that more than two-thirds of workers want and yet only 17% of employers are offering. Make yourself one of those employers!
What are the concerns?
The 4 Day Week has a lot going for it, and we should monitor those companies who have piloted it closely, but it’s not all peaches and cream. There are some valid concerns to be aware of, and if this is to work, we should find strategies to mitigate them.
Concern 1 – It could impact customer satisfaction
If you’re a company that relies on B2B sales, the 4 Day Week could make you unavailable to customers if they need your products quickly, or if they’re a client who needs help. The same can be said for companies that focus on B2C services.
To mitigate this, shifts would need to be adopted. Not all employees would work Monday-Thursday. Some could work Tuesday-Friday! Flexibility is key when assessing if this is the right fit for your workplace!
Concern 2 - Not all industries can participate
In my opinion, this is the big one. The health and care sector is facing nationwide staff shortages as it is - we've written about it numerous times! Can we honestly say that your average care home will have the resources to split their staff over 4 days? Patients requiring 24/7 care will need staff to be available 24/7, and currently, there aren’t enough staff in these key industries to facilitate flexible shift patterns.
What this could lead to is a workforce split into two tiers. We’ve stood on our doorsteps throughout the pandemic and applauded our NHS and key workers for being heroes - and then we’d expect them to keep their arduous shifts while the rest of us enjoy the health benefits of a 4-day week.
The hospitality industry already overburdens its staff with the inflexibility of shift-work and staffing, with 1 in 7 restaurant, bar, and hotel workers experiencing burnout within just a year of shift work. 'White-collar' workers would have a boost in morale, productivity, and mental health, while those in industries where a 4 day week isn’t viable will suffer more just from the contrast.