What is the four-day week and why was it introduced?
The trial, which will last for six months, began on Wednesday 1 June. 60 companies are taking part across a range of industries, from engineering to retail.
The world’s biggest ever workweek trial has arisen as a result of life after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many are feeling disillusioned and fatigued – a recent survey of 5,000 workers showed nearly half admitting to facing an “extraordinary level of burnout” – and are quitting their jobs to achieve a better work/life balance.
The trial is certainly something many workers want, with 75 percent of them welcoming this compressed way of working.
In a recent article for BCU Advantage, two Birmingham City University (BCU) academics predicted that the four-day week would make a positive difference to peoples’ lives.
“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 BCU.
“As long as the operational aspects of production and delivery can be resolved, a four-day week can be a win-win.”
Now, over two months in, how are the companies involved finding it so far? What are the positives and negatives, and will it change the future of the workplace?
Better work/life balance for employees
It’s no surprise, then, that employees are already finding a better work/life balance. It’s perhaps the biggest driver for the four-day week, with 72 percent of employees considering work/life balance to be essential.
Having an extra day off has seen workers around the country re/discover hobbies, taking up cooking classes, piano lessons and volunteering.
It has also had a positive result for some employees’ mental health, reducing anxiety.
“Having more downtime and less ‘Sunday scaries’ over the weekend has helped improve my mental health and approach the week with a more positive attitude, rather than coming in stressed,” says Emily Morrison, an account director, in an interview with CNN Business.
Issues around consistency
“You know the feeling when you’ve been on vacation and you’re now playing catchup? We started to notice things slipping through the cracks.”
This is the verdict from Rebecca Brooks, CEO of marketing research firm Alter Agents, who abandoned the four-day week.
Deceptively simple issues such as staff leave became an ongoing certain. “Two people on the same team couldn’t be off on the same day,” she says in an interview with Fast Company.
Consistency also became a concern.
“Some employees set boundaries and wouldn’t check work when off, but some would,” Rebecca says. “There was no consistency and it created confusion and frustration, affecting the dynamics between employees.”
After 10 weeks, Rebecca took a staff survey and found that employee satisfaction had actually gone down.
“People weren’t able to fully relax on their day off,” she explains. “There was too much tension and stress about what they were missing and what they were coming back to.”
A potentially positive contribution to the environment
Advocates of the four-day week are anticipating the reduced hours will reduce carbon emissions.
A recent UK survey revealed that this new workweek could decrease travel by a whopping 691 million miles a week.
Years of data have shown that reduced hours would and can result in drops in ecological footprint, carbon footprint and carbon dioxide emissions.
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, feels reduced working hours will positively affect employees’ lives outside of work.
“They become used to a different lifestyle that’s a lower consumption lifestyle because they have more time.”
With the rise of the circular economy, many businesses are looking to make positive contributions to the environment.
However, it is not guaranteed that reduced working hours will positively impact the carbon footprint. After all, many people will use this extra time to get on an airplane for a holiday or take a long car journey.
New workplace methods
Productivity is a hot topic during this trial, with some feeling it will improve and others skeptical. Efficiency is another concern, but some companies are already finding innovative new methods of working.
One business, skincare product manufacturer 5 Squirrels, have introduced ‘deep work time’ to ensure productivity remains high.
For two hours every morning and afternoon, the business ignores emails, calls and Teams messages and concentrates on its projects.
It’s in response to a survey which showed 58 percent of employees spend their day on activities such as answering emails and attending meetings, rather than the work they were hired for.
For 5 Squirrels, meetings have also been adapted. They are now capped at 30 minutes and only permitted in the two hours outside of ‘deep work time’.
The results have been positive, with the company reporting that employees are completing projects that are hitherto constantly put on the backburner.
What does the four-day week mean for your business?
Once the trial ends in November, the participating businesses have a choice on whether to keep it or return to a five-day working week.
Some companies will inevitably find the four-day week not for them, as will some employees. Some, conversely, will welcome the permanent change.
There will be advantages and there will be pitfalls, and some companies will feel one more than others.
However, the future of the workplace continues to change and it’s fair to say that some of the principles will remain.
If you are looking to recruit, you may find some employees are receptive to the new ways of working this trial has introduced.
If you are considering trialling a four-day week or something similar, it would be wise to seek the advice of experienced business professionals and academics.
Our knowledge transfer partnerships (KTPs) partner one such individual with a business to introduce impactful new ways of working.
If you are thinking of introducing a bold but potentially enriching way of work to your organisation, a KTP could show you the way.