What a Four-Day Week Could Mean for Employers

By Matthew Reymes Cole
06 Aug 2021

Back in 2020, several cross-party MPs urged the Government to consider legalising a four-day week. Since then, there have been studies and reports exploring the idea.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what a four-day working week would mean for employers, including pros and cons…

Four-day working week

The pros and the cons

Many believe that the pandemic has opened a gateway to reduce the five-day working week. The MPs mentioned above raised the following point:

Pre-pandemic, 75% of UK employees supported the idea of a four-day week. This is largely because it promotes “better mental health and wellbeing; work [is] shared more equally across the economy; greater productivity at work; and the potential to engage in more environmentally sustainable behaviours.”

However, a study by Wellcome Trust found that there was a downside. They discovered that giving all staff Fridays off work would be too complex to implement. Many questions arose from the study, including:

  • How part-time work would operate
  • If outsourcing partners would need to be granted the same conditions
  • How employers would respond to growing demand

These are all very important questions. Each one highlights operational complexities that work against the idea of a four-day week.

With this in mind it’s easy to completely disagree with the notion. However, both sides of the debate have points. If brought together, it’s likely a comprise can be formed. For example, as a result of the pandemic, many people have been working remotely. Some employers were able to achieve this without suffering a decline in demand for their services. Similarly, a lot of these employers would have chosen to furlough some of their workers. Pre-pandemic, this would’ve been an unthinkable move for most businesses. Could a four-day working week be just as achievable?

The past couple of years may not have necessarily shone a light on how effective a four-day week would be. But what has been proven is that there is widespread acceptance of flexibility in how we work. Given how successful homeworking has been for many businesses, there could be similar success for a four-day working week. For many businesses there is operational capacity to accommodate it. However, we have been avoiding one key question—how much would this all cost?

How economical is it?

For this, we turn to the Centre for Policy Studies. They suggested that a reduction of working hours, if championed by the Government, may cost taxpayers £17 billion. It argued that productivity must first be raised before reducing working hours. They go on to say that “public sector productivity growth over the last couple of decades has been almost static.”

A report that contests this view comes from the independent thinktank, Autonomy. This report revealed that working a four-day week on full pay could prove economical. Taking profitability statistics from over 50,000 organisations, they found that most organisations with over 50 workers would be able to afford reducing their working week by one day. This is because overall productivity and price increases would offset the reduction in working days. However, it would need to be phased. This would help to avoid cashflow problems by sectors with high labour costs.

The thinktank therefore recommends that a change in working days and hours would need to be led by the public sector. Doing this may be able to support the UK’s continuing recovery from the pandemic. Both sides put forward valid arguments.

Some businesses have taken it one step further and begun trialing a four-day week. Some are yet to begin but hope to do so soon.

Four-day week trials

Organisations such as Synergy Vision and Radioactive PR are among those who have already implemented a four-day week successfully.

The CEO of Synergy Vision has found this has saved the organisation recruitment, training and onboarding costs. This is all due to retention having improved. A four-day week has also proved to be a useful selling point for recruiting into the business.

Popular global consumer brand Unilever announced in 2020 that it would be implementing a year-long four-day week trial in its New Zealand branch. It will do this by changing the way its employees work and by not increasing the number of hours they work within the four days. If successful, Unilever plans to roll this change out globally.

Iceland is the most recent country to announce that the trial of a four-day working week has been 'an overwhelming success'.

What do you think about implementing a four-day week?

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About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently oversees a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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