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The four-day working week

Not too long ago, the four-day working week seemed like a far-off (or far-fetched) dream to most! A three-day weekend, you say? With no cut to my salary? SIGN ME UP! Well, it’s a concept that seems to be gaining popularity and credibility again. And not just amongst employees. When the model fits, there are clear benefits for employers too.

One of the many learnings from the pandemic is that, in many settings, the old way of working was just that: old. And, also, not really working! The changes inflicted upon us all started something of a revolution. Employers saw, in many cases, that not only could employees be trusted to work from home, but that productivity actually increased. As did morale, commitment, and loyalty. Removing the constraints of a physical office and traditional working hours (and eliminating or reducing painful commutes) reaped benefits across the board.

With flexibility and work-life balance ever more important to workers, and with flexible working patterns shown to benefit employers too, is the next step the four-day working week?

In early June of this year, more than 3,300 workers from 70 UK companies started working a four-day week with no reduction in pay in the world’s biggest trial of this working pattern. The scheme is running for six months and includes workers from businesses of all sizes and sectors, from local fish & chip shops to financial and recruitment institutions.

It is based on the 100:80:100 model – that is 100% of pay for 80% of the time in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity.

Managed by 4 Day Week Global, researchers (including teams from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Boston College) will work with the companies involved to measure any impact on their productivity as well as the wellbeing of their workers. They will also look at effects on the environment and gender equality, as the four-day week is generally considered to be “a triple-dividend policy”, benefiting employers, employees and the environment and climate.

Ed Siegel, chief executive of Charity Bank, one of the businesses involved in this pilot, explained:

“The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business. We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.”

In addition to this UK trial, the results of which we will have to wait to see, Iceland (the country, not the frozen food retailer!) piloted a reduced-hour workweek between 2015 and 2019. The trials were an overwhelming success. 86% of the country’s workforce are now working shorter hours or have the right to shorten their hours, but productivity and service provision have been maintained or improved across most businesses involved. Stress and burnout have been significantly reduced. Finland’s prime minister has now upped the ante by proposing a six-hour, four-day working week.

“Most people chase success at work, thinking that will make them happy. The truth is that happiness at work will make you successful.”

– Alexander Kjerulf, “Chief Happiness Officer”

Of course, other businesses, large and small, are also trialling their own four-day working weeks (and variations on the theme) outside of this formal pilot scheme. Some are starting to believe that this is the obvious next step to attract and retain the best talent and maximise the morale, loyalty and wellbeing of their people. It may even be something that you or your organisation are considering.

One of the keys to making this work is, of course, a robust internal comms strategy that ensures any reduction in crossover time within teams does not translate to less (or fractured) communication. There are so many ways to (remotely) communicate effectively and in engaging ways, with numerous tech’ platforms to support with and enhance this, that a reduction in shared time and physical space should not be a barrier. Any comms strategy must, of course, give full consideration to non-wired (or deskless) colleagues who are potentially at greater risk of not receiving vital top-down comms as and when intended.

If further flexibility is something your business is investigating, then health-checking your comms set-up is essential. It would be devastating to be forward-thinking enough to embrace these most modern of working practices, but then to have them fail because of something as fundamental as robust and effective comms.

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”

– Arianna Huffington, Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Huffington Post


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