Doing more with less: green benefits of a four-day workweek

7 min read | Paul Gosling | Article | People and culture Recruiting Salary and pay Workforce planning Workplace Flexible & hybrid working Job searching | Salary & pay

green benefits

Since the positive reception of a UK four-day workweek pilot, the workplace model continues to gather momentum. The perceived benefits include improved productivity and greater employee wellbeing – but could a shorter workweek also lengthen the life of our planet?

  • According to our survey on the four-day working week, almost a third (31%) of professionals believe one day less in the office could have a beneficial impact on the environment.
  • One in five workers (21%) said they would use their free day to volunteer.
  • The vast majority of respondents (93%) believe the four-day working week is a good idea, but only 5% of organisations say they have implemented one.

A reduced carbon footprint

According to our four-day working week survey, featuring the views of over 11,800 respondents, close to a third (31%) believe that one day less in the office could have a positive impact on the environment. It’s also an opinion shared by some prominent academics: Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, and lead researcher at 4 Day Week Global, argues that a shorter workweek is key to achieving carbon emission reductions.

One of the most significant green benefits of a shortened workweek is the reduced time spent commuting. Drawing on data from the UK trial, one study recorded a 10% decrease over the pilot period for the companies that tracked their commuting time, while Schor claims this figure could be as high as 15-20%. Moreover, research by the 4-Day Week Campaign revealed that a shortened work week could slash the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year – the equivalent of taking 27 million cars off the road.

“We reduced our driving miles by a third across a year,” says Simon Ursell, Managing Director at Tyler Grange, an environmental consultancy, and early adopter of the four-day working week. “The ideal environmental solution is eliminating the use of things, to reduce consumption. A four-day week is great for that, because it increases the efficiency and productivity of our business, which has a genuine, real net benefit for the environment.”

Scope for environmental volunteering

A four-day working week could help reduce ‘time poverty’ from a long-hours work culture, potentially enabling individuals to make better decisions and life choices. Some studies even suggest that a shift to a shorter workweek encourages pro-environmental behaviours, such as household recycling, buying eco-friendly products, and walking and cycling over driving.

Plus, according to our survey, one in five professionals (21%) would use the time to volunteer. There’s already an appetite for workers to get involved in civic initiatives, and it’s feasible that a shortened workweek could encourage more people to reconnect with nature and get involved with environmental projects. In Tyler Grange’s case, Simon notes that the extra day allowed them to expand on their existing commitment to sustainable projects and wider charitable causes.

“Part of our four-day working week is that you have to give back to the communities and society around you, and we’re now able to volunteer for a lot more causes,” says Simon. “People choose to work for us because of that.”

To help facilitate green volunteering, organisations could consider setting up a platform or network that puts their workers in touch with suitable opportunities. At Hays, we’ve partnered with charities like Trees for Cities to help create greener urban spaces that benefit the communities in which we live and work, while our recently launched Neighbourly volunteering campaign is connecting our people with charities and civic causes across the UK and Ireland.

Still a complicated picture

Despite the encouraging research, the reality of a four-day week’s green benefits could be more complex. While countries around the world have implemented trials, there’s currently not enough data to fully capture the extent of the proposed climate benefits, plus the different variables at play make benchmarking carbon emissions difficult. Moreover, some argue that the green advantages are heavily influenced by the way people spend their time off: three-day weekend splurges on carbon-intensive goods and services wouldn’t quite be the environmental solution promised.

It's also important to remember that the four-day week is far from an established practice. Although the vast majority of our survey’s respondents (93%) believe the concept is a good idea, only 5% of organisations have so far implemented the model. For many, the change to entrenched routines –and the long-term planning required – may be too great an obstacle.

“When we first started talking about the four-day working week, it was our very best people who were most against it,” explains Simon. “It’s overcoming the traditional barrier of always working five days. You have to get better – you can’t work exactly the same way you always would and see benefits. You have to be very intentional and drive a culture of improving things for your organisation.”

So far, climate concerns may have not been the largest driver for implementing a four-day work week, but the potential green benefits are an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked. If adoption continues to grow, and more workers find themselves with a new-found free day, how people choose to use that time could define the four-day week’s environmental value.

For more insights into the world of work, check out our latest Salary & Recruiting Trends guide for key stats and market intel on salary increases, skills shortages, hybrid working and more.

About this author

Paul Gosling, National Director for Sustainability Recruitment, Hays

Paul has been a specialist recruiter in environment and sustainability for over 25 years. He started recruiting into the sector in 1995 after finishing his BSc in Environmental Science and he’s worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of companies over the past 20-plus years to support their growth and development in this dynamic and critically important sector.

During this time, Paul has built a wealth of knowledge and he’s recognised as a leading expert on overcoming the unique recruitment challenges facing the environment and sustainability sector.

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