Is it time to embrace a four-day week?

7 min read | Jo Fairley, co-founder, The Perfume Society | Report | People and culture | Flexible and hybrid working

Colleagues sticking post it notes on a board

I’m very big on wellbeing in the workplace generally. Personally, I go to exercise classes every Friday morning, I make time every day to get my 10,000 steps in, and I also happen to live and work by the beach and go for a swim in the sea almost every day.

For me, being able to do those things is really important. Unless you are taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be any good at doing your job. You’ll be running on empty and you’re not going to be a good team member or a good manager.

So, when my team are going to a yoga class or want a bit of extra time for lunch because they want to go for walk, that’s fine.

Personally, I like to work to set tasks and will keep working to finish them. But I know people have different styles so there is a lot of freedom in my businesses. I’m not breathing down anybody’s neck.


Find the right flexible balance for your business

At Green & Black’s, when we were building the business, there were many, many days when I worked 18 hours. I was also still working as a journalist full time so a lot of juggling was required. It was pretty hard having two full-time jobs actually at that point. Often in the very early stages of a business that’s an easy trap to fall into.

"We respond best when we're rested and allowed to explore a passion outside of our business life".

A lot of people start their businesses as a side hustle, but you have to factor in some time to look after yourself, because otherwise you will run out of steam.

I chose to work such long hours because, alongside growing Green & Black’s, I didn’t want to turn my back on a very successful journalistic career that fed into what I was doing with the company, helping me keep my finger on the pulse of trends.

This was also before email, so to communicate with people in California or Australia meant speaking to them at either end of a UK day.

I know plenty of people in the early stages who do work incredibly long hours – and if you don’t want to do that, my advice would be to work for someone else, not yourself.

While I was happy to work these 18-hour days for myself, I do not believe this is something that should ever be encouraged among your employees. In fact, I believe moving to a four-day week would be beneficial to a huge number of companies. In the summer of 2019 I spoke at Henley Business School as it launched research on the subject. The research showed that many people, and in particular millennials, are looking for more flexibility.

To them, this idea that you give people more time off is a sign of stronger values. It’s a sign of a company appreciating that employees are not automatons. We respond best when we’re rested and when we’re allowed to explore a passion outside of our business life. Those things feed back into our day-to-day work by making us feel better about life generally.


How to adapt to a four-day week

That’s why the idea of the four-day week is so powerful. It should not see people doing 20 per cent less work. The aim is to have people work more receptively in those four days. They should be 20 per cent more effective with the incentive of having a whole extra day to themselves.

From a productivity point of view, that stands up. The Henley research shows that there are also vast financial benefits to the companies who have imposed a four-day week.

Time to adopt a four-day future? 45% of full-time global worker say it should take less than five hours each day to do their job if they worked uninterrupted. Source: The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated.

The survey of over 500 UK businesses found that two-thirds of those operating on a four-day week reported improvements in productivity.

However, it’s not suitable for all organisations. If you’re a service business and you’ve got people who are working behind a till or in a restaurant you would just be increasing your staffing bill. Effectively you’d be giving them a 25 per cent pay rise. However, it’s absolutely viable for many businesses.

For those considering implementing it, I believe it has to be an across-the-board offer for your whole organisation. If you allow some people to have a four-day week while being paid for five but not everybody, your whole office infrastructure could come tumbling down. People don’t want to feel that somebody else is getting special treatment.

You should be prepared to change back if it isn’t right for your organisation; however, stay open to other versions of the policy. If a four-day week isn’t right for you, a nine-day fortnight or one Friday off a month might be better.

Whatever you decide, be open and communicative with your people. It’s important that people know what’s going on.

This blog was originally written as part of the Hays Journal.

About this author

Jo Fairley

Jo Fairley is co-founder of multi-million pound organic chocolate company Green & Black’s. She is also a best-selling author of a number of beauty and lifestyle books and Contributing Editor of YOU magazine.

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