Is the four day working week possible?
- 4 Min Read
Growing evidence suggest that long working hours does not lead to increased output, whilst a four-day week can improve employee wellbeing and productivity.
Global debates surrounding work culture and productivity have given rise to the concept of the four-day working week, but what does this mean for current and indeed future workforces?
Proponents of the idea argue that more working hours does not lead to increased output, whilst a shorter working week can improve the wellbeing and productivity. This was pioneered by Perpetual Guardian, the New Zealand based estate planning firm, who introduced the four-day week on a six- week trial basis. They reported that job performance remained the same in four days, whilst stress levels fell by 7% and work life balance increased by 26%.
Recently, this idea has been in the news after the Trade Union Bloc made calls for UK companies to adopt a four-day working week. They argue that workers should benefit from economic growth and a reduced need for humans to perform menial tasks because of technological advances in AI, robotics and automation. Frances O’Grady, the General Trade Secretary of the TUC has stated that “It’s time to share the wealth from new technology, not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves.”
The obvious benefits of a four-day working week are centred around increased motivation at work and an ability to engage with more non-work-related activities, be it family time, exercise or pursuing a new hobby. This in turn ensures a happier, less stressed, and more mentally engaged workforce, who, in theory produce the same amount of work because less time is wasted whilst they are in the office.
Lack of office productivity is plaguing UK workplaces. A recent study of over 2000 office workers by Voucher Cloud revealed that in an eight-hour day, office workers are only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes. The rest of the time is taken up by checking social media and the news, chats with colleagues and making tea.
For this reason, companies are beginning to take note of concept of a four-day week. UK based co-working community for the self-employed IndyCube, have experienced similar successes since implementing a four-day working week over a year ago, and currently has no plans to return to the standard five-day week.
IndyCube have commented: “We’ve seen ample benefits from the four-day working week and feel our output of work is the same as it ever was, if not better! Hours input doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity, particularly in office-based jobs. Our team benefit from a day every week, taken as and when they choose, to engage in creative pursuits, collect their children from school, volunteer locally or just rest.”
Clearly, this new approach to working hours has the potential to change the way we work for the better. With greater emphasis on productivity of workers on the clock, whilst in return every weekend would feel like a bank holiday.
Drawbacks and lack of suitability
This concept has been met with some controversy and proved to be not feasible across all industries. When the Swedish city of Gothenburg trialled the six-hour working day for nurses working in care homes, it made little financial sense because unlike office workers, nurses need to be working around the clock, so more people had to be hired. The trial cost the government £1.1m and it was decided that the traditional five-day week should be resumed. However, it was a success in terms of nurses reporting reduced work-related stress and happiness, one nurse commented to the BBC that “during the trial all the staff had more energy. I could see that everybody was happy.”
Even in the context of office work, definitive conclusions are yet to be drawn as it has thus far only been trialled at a handful of companies for a relatively short period of time. The big concern is whether the four-day week can be implemented without a fall in output. More extensive trials across a wide range of industries would be needed to measure work output during a four-day week, especially after the initial honeymoon period ends.
It is also important to note that the fundamental concept of this change to the working week is to work fewer hours. Yet, the four-day working week has been interpreted by Deloitte and KPMG as allowing employees to work a full 40-hour week within four days. This arguably does not produce the same positive benefits for employees and even has the potential to increase stress. If the four-day week is to prove beneficial, employers should fully embrace the concept of allowing employees to work fewer hours.
Ultimately, the four-day working week could provide a solution to low levels of engagement and motivation at work, resulting in higher quality output. However, more concrete evidence of success will be needed before more companies seriously consider adopting this innovative approach to working hours.