Just how close are we to a four-day week?

Is it really possible to work fewer hours but be more productive? Well, yes – if a growing body of research is to be believed. A number of studies and trials conducted over the past decade are showing that a four-day week can not only improve the wellbeing of staff, but it can actually boost productivity.

When Microsoft Japan tried it, it reported that productivity went up by 40%. A series of trials in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 led to 86% of the country’s workforce moving to shorter hours for the same pay. Explanations for this are: employees work smarter with greater focus, are happier and less tired.

It’s still quite early days, however, and very few companies in the UK have taken it up as a serious proposition. Perhaps many doubt that it would work in their particular sector; are concerned it would put them at a competitive disadvantage; or that ultimately, there isn’t enough research to make an informed judgment.

That last point could soon be about to change, however. A pilot project, set to begin this June, will be trialling a four-day working week (that is, reduced hours at the same pay) at a number of UK employers over a six-month period. Similar pilots are also taking place in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

At least 30 companies have signed up for the UK trial, which is being coordinated by the campaign group 4 Day Week Global with researchers from Cambridge and Oxford Universities. The researchers will monitor how the new working pattern affects productivity and staff wellbeing. Their findings are likely to shed more light on the practicalities of moving to this model.

Recruitment and retention could be another factor pushing a shorter working week further up the agenda. The idea of a four-day week is incredibly attractive to most people – just look at Atom Bank, who saw applicants increase by 500% after it moved to a four-day week, having previously struggled to recruit. If your competitors start to move to this model, who do you think your staff would prefer to work for?

Stuart Calvert, Wales and West Regional Director with People Puzzles, believes this would be a positive move. “We have, for a long time, been exponents of highly engaged workforces as we know this has a proven effect on increased productivity,” he says. “If a more flexible approach to the working week reinforces this and employers continue to see positive returns – not just monetarily, but also an increase in employee happiness, wellbeing and ultimately length of service/tenure – that has to be welcomed.”

In some organisations, the groundwork has already been laid as a result of the pandemic, which has shown many employers that productivity is not necessarily linked to the number of hours spent in the office. A recent poll found that 41% of companies are now moving to a more flexible hybrid model that allows more working from home. Now that workers are trusted to get the job done regardless of where they are, you could argue that a four-day week is the next logical step towards a happier and more productive workforce.

People Puzzles works with ambitious clients all over the UK to foster a happy and high-performing workforce. Find out more about how a happier workforce could improve you business by calling 020 3633 6830.

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