Just before Christmas, we announced to the Work Wales team that in January, we’d be testing the waters and trialling a brand-new working pattern; the four-day working week! We’re keen to promote a great work-life balance and give our team the space to enjoy life to the full. We are proud of the talented people that make up the Work Wales team and want to see them succeed professionally and personally.
It is so important to us that we do not reduce salaries or increase hours, and to allow our team the freedom to choose which day works best for them, their role, and the business.
No matter where you look at the moment, the four-day work week is a hot topic. Interestingly, there are plans for a number of UK businesses to pilot a six month four-day work week in early 2022, in a project led by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with 4 Day Week UK, think tank Autonomy, and researchers from Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. Companies are citing many different reasons for testing this cutting-edge working pattern, from wellbeing to productivity. At Work Wales, we’re trying it out to hopefully see what the future of working life in the UK could look like. We are interested to observe what impact it has on our staff, their lives, and what it can do for our business. In the hopes of inspiring other companies thinking of making the leap, we intend to be fully transparent about our experience, so look out for future blogs about our trial!
The Four-Day work week
Typically, a four-day work week would either be longer hours over four days to maintain 40 hours or reducing the number of hours to 32 hours a week. The 4-Day week campaign is campaigning for a 32-hour week with no reduction in pay. An intriguing concept that could prove interesting for the entire industry, but does it feel like an unachievable goal?
A study, conducted in 2020 by independent think tank, Autonomy, discovered that this concept could be a feasible goal for UK businesses, as long as it is carefully implemented and designed.
Early adopters and Trials
It’s not only businesses, but entire countries that are on board! In early 2021, Spain launched their three-year project with support and allocated funding from the Spanish Government. This encouraged businesses of all sizes across Spain to trial a new way of life for their people.
Japan is another country taking on the change with the aim of gathering research on the impact of a four-day working week. Microsoft Japan launched a ‘Work Life Choice Challenge’ in the summer of 2019 and incredibly, their trial led to a 40% boost in productivity!
Extensive studies have also taken place in Iceland as the change was trialled over a number of years, 86% of people in Iceland now work four days a week. It’s great to see that such a huge percentage of the working population has embraced the change!
Keeping up with the times
Times are changing and years ago an average household would typically have run via a different structure; one adult within the family would generally be the breadwinner, whilst the other remained at home to take care of the household and family needs. The second adult would either work part-time or not at all, at least until children were in full-time education.
As we celebrate equal opportunities and champion the closing of the gender pay gap, nowadays we experience a commonality of both adults in the household working full-time. In many UK households, we often see one adult working reduced hours to balance caring for children and household management. This isn’t a standard, of course, each household is individual, however, statistically back in 2019, 73.2% of the 6.2 million families with dependent children had both parents in employment. In the past 50 years, the number of stay-at-home mothers has halved whilst the number of couples in full-time work has doubled. The privileges for both adults within a family working a four-day week could mean shared parental and household responsibilities and more time spent together.
The pandemic has shifted attitudes to work and proved that big changes aren’t as impossible as they seemed. For many of us, our whole lives changed, and we needed to adapt how and where we worked.
One argument for those in favour of a shorter week is that the five-day work week is no longer suited to modern life and our needs. It is considered outdated for many, but as with anything, it may not work for certain business needs.
As part of our research, we considered all aspects of this innovative new working style and want to share our thoughts here for any business owners wanting to understand both sides of the decision:
In a study conducted by the University of Reading in 2019, 64% of respondents said their staff were more productive.
Fewer days in the office means less time commuting and resources and fuels used in running office buildings and work premises. Even when the business still operated 5-7 days a week it was found that costs were reduced.
Good for Mental Health
A shift in allowing time for a better work-life balance is good for mental health. This in turn should mean less stress-related sick leave. In a trial of a four-day work week, New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian found that employees experienced a 7% drop in stress levels.
Allows time for extra training/study
A full work schedule and daily life admin doesn’t leave much time in other areas for self-improvement. The extra day means people can fit in time for study, working out, and other things that will benefit them in their own personal development. There are benefits for employers too, upskilling or gaining extra qualifications during their time off is a benefit to the business.
Time to book appointments/life admin
Worrying about trying to find time for the dentist, doctors, tradesman to come in, and things like childcare can have a negative impact on work. If staff had an extra day, there’s more flexibility and less chance of these taking up work time.
It can highlight inefficiencies
Too much time spent on meetings, disengaged employees? With less time in a working week, many trials found that staff were inclined to identify areas for improvement. With less time, there is need to use time more efficiently and focus.
Not suitable for every business
For some, it simply won’t work, however, it doesn’t mean that other things won’t work for your business and your staff. There are many other benefits and flexible working arrangements that can help improve wellbeing and help you attract great talent and retain staff.
Potential to overwork
If a business doesn’t have enough resources or staff, the danger is that people are having to cram more work into less time. There is still a danger of burnout and stress if the move to four days isn’t managed effectively.
Can be difficult at the start
The initial stages of a trial or implementing a four-day week can be very difficult. It’s a case of trial and error to balance making sure business needs will be met. Figuring out how it’s all going to work can be a big undertaking. But it’s not impossible!
Do you think it’s Time for change?
The Covid-19 pandemic changed working life as we know it. Wherever you look there’s positive press and real accounts of how this particular change has worked for individual companies.
If four days doesn’t work for your business, there’s always a 4.5-day week, shorter days, or things like flexi-time to consider. There’s no denying that the future of work-life balance is now, and Work Wales are embracing it!