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Will the four-day working week become a reality?

By Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

It’s an understatement, but the pandemic changed our working practices as we knew them. Large swathes of society went from a largely office-based, five-day working week, to a more hybrid model with flexible rules that allow staff to work remotely some – or all – of the time. With this has come an increase in employee wellbeing, a better work-life balance and an upsurge productivity, and now, many organisations are considering if another model could improve things even further: enter the much debated four-day working week.

The concept isn’t new and has been adopted by some organisations in Europe for many years, but now a worldwide pilot is taking place to see if this model could work elsewhere. In fact, 60 organisations in the UK have signed up to take part in the six-month scheme, which starts in June this year. According to a survey we carried out between 15th February and 1st March, 69% of professionals that responded said the four-day working week would help employee mental health and wellbeing, and 53% would consider moving jobs for this working pattern. But, in reality, what impact could it have?

Work-life balance

The pilot, which is being run by Cambridge and Oxford Universities, plus Boston College, will see employees working longer hours - up to 9.5 per day - allowing a five-day week to be compressed into four. This intention would create an extra day of freedom for professionals to focus on their personal lives, and therefore increase wellbeing and a better work-life balance. However, some critics of the scheme believe this may lead to burn-out on the working days, with staff feeling pressured to work more intensely and take fewer breaks, which could lead to an increase in stress levels, rather than a decrease. Only time will tell.

Employee engagement

It’s thought that a four-day working week could result in better employee engagement with anticipated benefits that include: an extra day off, meaning fewer sick days will be required, staff feeling more engaged and motivated on the workdays, and possibly feeling a sense of trust and respect from their employer by being allowed to have such flexibility, to name just a few. However, some workers may question the motivation of their employer cramming a full work week into fewer days and worry that it may be a way to deflect from not receiving a pay rise.

Cost and carbon footprint

According to research by Platform London, an environmental organisation, moving towards a four-day working week could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year by 2025. The reduced days spent in the office would mean reduced emissions from high-energy businesses and would see fewer journeys being made by employees to and from the office. But it’s not just the carbon-footprint saving to consider, moving to this new work pattern could save organisations money, too. Fewer days spent in the office also means a reduction in overheads and running costs.

What’s next?

While we can’t predict the outcome of the pilot; we do know the reasons behind it. The competition for talent in a post-Covid world is fierce, and the number of available professionals with the skills and experience to deliver is decreasing, as vacancies outnumber the active jobseekers looking for new employment.

Staff attraction and retention is more crucial than ever before, so while the pilot continues, one thing is for certain - employers should continue to focus on ensuring their organisations have a strong purpose, introduce wellbeing days, prioritise flexibility as much as possible and ensure that staff feel genuinely supported and heard. These goals are some of the main objectives of the four-day working week pilot, and regardless of its success, they are something all organisations should strive for. 

You can find out more on this topic by downloading our infographic, which explores the views of over 9,500 professionals on the four-day working week.

About this author

Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.

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