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Could your business make a four-day week work?

With a number of UK businesses trialling a four-day week from June, two of our expert academics provide insight into the benefits and the challenges that this new way of working could have.
Photo of Dr Steve McCabe

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Could your business make a four-day week work?

With a number of UK businesses trialling a four-day week from June, two of our expert academics provide insight into the benefits and the challenges that this new way of working could have.
Photo of Dr Steve McCabe

What is the four-day week trial?

A four-day working trial will officially begin in the UK from Wednesday 1 June, lasting for six months.

60 companies are taking part across a number of sectors, including marketing agencies, engineering firms, recruiters and retailers.

Employees will not lose any of their wages during this trial. Businesses will work with researchers to record the impact on productivity, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

It arrives as the workplace continues to adapt post-pandemic.

Better work/life balance

Many employees are growing increasingly interested in the work/life balance benefits this kind of model would bring.

A recent survey, for example, found that three-quarters of workers would welcome this compressed way of working.

“The pandemic has been the catalyst for many organisations to engage in this sort of project,” says Dr Steve McCabe, an economist, business expert and active researcher at Birmingham City University.

“Crises are always, perversely, an opportunity to be radical – in the 1970s, for example, heavy energy use in industry resulted in a three-day week. Post-pandemic workplace trends like working four days a week are a viable option.”

In recent years, a four-day working week has previously been piloted in Japan, where Microsoft gave employees five Fridays off in a row, resulting in better morale and a productivity increase of up to 40 percent.

Steve believes the technology at many companies’ disposal can contribute to working less hours without productivity or outputs being affected.

“New tech can radically improve workers’ ability to achieve outputs,” he says. “Investment and training of workers are fundamental to successfully transforming an organisation.

“As long as the operational aspects of production and delivery can be resolved, a four-day week can be a win-win.

“Indeed, provided the change is introduced in a way that is not disruptive to the business, evidence of its use elsewhere demonstrates that it can be cost effective in that productivity increases.”

What benefits could a four-day week bring?

A huge plus is a better work/life balance. Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at BCU (pictured below), believes that this will be markedly improved if the number of rest days an employee has is increased.

Photo of Professor Craig Jackson, of Birmingham City University

“Working fewer days allows workers to focus their efforts into compressed working periods and have more downtime,” he says in an interview with Yahoo! Life.

“We talk lots about work/life balance. However, in my 20 years of experience, I rarely see any balance in those who work five days a week, but plenty in those who work fewer days.”

Craig says this could also have benefits for the employers. These include improving staff morale and, in turn, boosting retention and reducing turnover.

“We need to remember that the workplaces which do the best in getting good things from their employees, and having fewer problems, are those that exert the maximum amount of flexibility in how the work is done,” he says.

“Effective managers and leadership should encourage workers to take sufficient breaks. Allow staff to dictate their working patterns when possible.”

In terms of challenges, Craig suggests some generations may favour four-day working weeks, while some may prefer to remain working five days.

“One challenge organisations may face will be ensuring not just younger workers adopt four-day weeks while older workers stick with traditional work patterns. Such a lack of diversity could develop into a work/skills problem.”

Will this post-pandemic workplace trend yield long-term success?

Craig feels that some employees will welcome the change, some will prefer five days. Therefore, the businesses that offer that flexibility will be the most successful.

“The four-day week trials in other countries have shown promising benefits. However, some workers will accept the change to four days and some will go elsewhere,” he explains. “Companies that will do the best from this situation will be those who offer greater flexibility.

“In many sectors, England’s businesses closed for half a day, usually on a Wednesday afternoon, up until the late 1980s. Businesses survived, and workers were all the better for it.”

Steve believes that the four-day working week should be regarded as a “first step to continual adaptation.”

“The positive of reduced time at work will be clear by the evidence of workers who feel more valued and believe their work/life balance is being considered,” he says.

“Any negatives – possibly because the change in working week is seen as a temporary fad – should be resisted.

“A four-day working week is highly likely to become the standard pattern of employment for future generations. No one wants written on their gravestone that they wished they’d spent more time at work.”

Help in innovating your business

Are you interested in seeing if a four-day week could work for you? You may be curious about the benefits it could bring, but wary of any potential pitfalls.

If so, there are a number of ways that BCU Advantage can support. Looking to diversify and try new methods? Our knowledge transfer partnerships (KTPs) will see you work closely with one of our experienced academics to introduce impactful new ways of working.

Recently, BCU experts have worked with Hadley Group to develop an offsite product engineering tool. This has helped achieve better design efficiency and saved considerable time.

A KTP will help you improve your business performance and achieve innovative solutions to challenges.

Looking to make a big change in your business? Find out more about our knowledge transfer partnerships.

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