This week, thousands of UK workers began a four-day working week trial, which will see around 70 companies take part in the scheme over the next six months. But will it be a success? Business Leader investigated.
The companies taking part come from a wide range of sectors and include software developers, recruitment firms, charities, and even local fish and chip shops. Employees taking part in the trial will receive 100% of their pay for working 80% of their usual hours, with the aim of being more productive.
Academics from Oxford and Cambridge universities, experts at Boston College in the US, and the think tank Autonomy will manage what is thought to be the world’s biggest four-day working week pilot scheme
Will it be a success?
Iceland successfully trialled a four-day week between 2015 and 2019, but how will the UK’s trial turn out?
Molly Johnson-Jones, Founder of flexible work experts, Flexa Careers, is confident the trial will show that workers will be just as, if not more, productive.
She says: “The UK’s four-day working week trial kicks off this week. This comes just as the debate between advocates for traditional ways of working and staff rebelling against office returns is really heating up, meaning the timing couldn’t be more perfect. In the same way that presenteeism doesn’t equate to productivity (despite what some politicians and business leaders would have us believe), nor do working very specific, fixed hours have a positive bearing on output. The trial should prove this unequivocally and put this debate to bed.
“Where it is practical for companies to implement, I have no doubt that teams working four instead of five day weeks will be as (if not more) productive. And as long as hours are being reduced – rather than simply compressed into fewer days – I have no doubt that they will be happier and healthier too.
“An extra day off will go a considerable way toward creating a healthy separation between professional and personal lives and improving work-life balance. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want that. Employers who embrace four-day weeks and genuine flexibility will fare far better in the battle to attract and retain talent as a result.”
However, Lawrence Mohiuddine, CEO EMEA at Unispace, maintains that it’s important for companies to maintain flexibility.
He comments: “This trial of a new working style is certainly laudable in the new world of work, but as a CEO I would be wary of pushing one set up for many in an environment where flexibility is key. Just as we’ve learnt that the five-day work week isn’t viable for all, so too could the four-day week be for some.
“If there’s one crucial takeaway from the pandemic, it’s that taking a catch-all approach to working style mandates isn’t always the best option. People from different demographics and home lives will have different preferences and if the right balance in working styles is to be achieved, there needs to be flexibility, rather than broadly dictating requirements for all.
“For some, the option to get out to the office five days a week is appealing and it’s important that this isn’t overlooked. In fact, in a study of 3,000 office workers and 2,750 employers across Europe, we found that 65% of those living with a spouse or partner and children preferred to be in the office, while 59% of those living alone also had a desire to be in the workplace rather than at home.
“While there will be many individuals who value the extra time they get from home, for others, the option to work amongst their peers for a full week in order to progress their careers is also still desired and they shouldn’t be disadvantaged by this change.
“As a case in point, our same study showed that the younger generation of the workforce would be happier to return to the office if they had access to training and development programmes (cited by 80% of respondents aged 18-35). A further 81% of those living with housemates and 75% of those living with a spouse/partner and children also cited a desire to return if they could gain access to training.
“The future workforce is flexible and while four-day working weeks is an innovative approach that should be explored, the voice of all talent pools needs to be listened to in today’s talent-short market. No single approach to working setups will meet the needs of everyone, but a flexible style that puts the power in the hands of today’s talent will be more desirable for a greater range of individuals.”
Potential for burnout
Paul Modley, Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at AMS, warns that clear guidance and support will be needed to prevent burnout.
He comments: “The flexibility of being able to work four days a week will certainly help create a better work-life balance for some workforces. However, this concept is new to individuals and businesses alike. The key hurdle to overcome if this is to be successful is the careful management of workloads.
“If staff are cutting their hours by 20% but their workload and delivery expectations remain the same, employers could face a scenario where people are struggling to meet expectations and failing to take breaks or working overtime during the new working week in order to gain an additional day off.
“With the right communication and careful management, a four-day week can work, but without appropriate implementation, employees can become disengaged with a brand or even feel disgruntled with the forced reduction of days.
“In an economy where talent shortages are rife and retaining staff is a critical business priority, it’s important to ensure that any changes to work set ups are delivering against the needs of individuals as well as the company.
“At AMS all of our roles can flex to some degree, so we have experience in making different working methods successful across the globe. It’ll be interesting to see the results of this trial, but the information that will be most valuable from my point of view will be the feedback of staff themselves, not just the productivity data from the businesses.”