It’s nearly been 100 years since the two-day weekend was introduced, and things have changed significantly since then. This begs the question, why are we still working this way and is it fit for purpose? Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean it’s the best way.
The discussion around a four-day working week has grown in recent years, and the idea of working 32 hours each week was included in Labour’s manifesto for the 2019 General Election.
At the time of writing, over 3,000 employees from 70 UK businesses are participating in the world’s largest four-day week trial for six months. This trial includes various companies, from fish and chip shops to banks. The six-month trial will demonstrate the impact of shorter working hours on business productivity, employee well-being, environmental impact and gender equality.
In January 2022, LIT Communication moved to work a four-day week with no reduction in pay for employees. We’ve recently become an official 4-day week, gold standard accredited business.
What is a 4-day week?
A four-day week is a 32-hour working week with no loss of pay, meaning employees benefit from a three-day weekend (our new reality). For some companies, 35-40 hours are compressed into four days, and many companies on the UK trial have a split schedule where some employees have Mondays off, and others count Fridays as their extra day off.
Why a 4-day workweek makes sense
For employees, the main benefit of working four days a week is to improve work/life balance. A three-day weekend leaves more time for life admin, socialising, and resting. In our personal experience, we’ve always found that working on Fridays left us feeling mentally and physically exhausted and was typically a non-productive day compared to the other four days.
For employers, trials have shown that productivity increases for those that move to work four days each week. In addition, employees are happier and less likely to suffer from burnout - leading to better employee retention and the ability to attract great employees who value work/life balance. Many employers running four-day week trials have also reported less absenteeism in the workplace.
For the environment, a four-day week could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes and give people more time to implement changes that lead to a more sustainable lifestyle. A reduction in travel emissions would also significantly help the UK with its mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
For the economy, unemployment would reduce - which would help to rebalance the economy. Productivity is also likely to increase, and the leisure/tourism sector would benefit because people would have more time to take breaks and do things they enjoy.
For society, a four-day working week would leave more time for people to focus on improving and maintaining their physical and mental health. Communities could also reap the benefits because people can dedicate more time to caring for children, the elderly and disabled people. The four-day week could also pave the way to rebalance gender inequality. The majority of unpaid domestic and care work is done by women, and high childcare costs mean that many women choose to stay at home with their children, rather than work for little reward.
Which countries already adopt a 4-day working week?
Some forward-thinking countries have already trialled a four-day working week, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States.
Despite the trials, only a few countries have permanently introduced a four-day working week so far, but many companies have adopted a four-day working week after trialling it and seeing the benefits. Others have initiated a shorter week off their own back in a bid to improve work/life balance - including Basecamp, City to Sea and Uplevel.
Belgium has recently introduced changes in labour laws that give everyone the right to work a four-day week (with compressed hours rather than reduced). Elsewhere, Spain has proposed a three-year, funded project to enable companies to reduce their working hours to 32 hours per week. Iceland, one of the first countries to run a four-day week trial, has seen 86% of workers move to a four-day week or given the option to do so.
Word on the street is that Scotland is launching a 4-day working week trial in 2023, and Wales is also considering it.
Will the UK adopt a 4-day working week?
The official four-day week trial in 2022 is a start, but only time will tell whether a 4-day week will become ‘the norm’. MP’s are currently discussing a four-day week law in parliament. This first-of-its-kind parliamentary bill would mandate a four-day week and see workers paid overtime of 1.5 times their ordinary pay if they worked more than 32 hours.
The official 4-day week campaign
For those considering moving their business to a 4-day week, you can find out more on the official 4-Day Week Campaign website. The not-for-profit organisation strongly believes that ‘the 9-5, 5-day working week is outdated and no longer fit for purpose’ and ‘it’s time for change’. And we’re inclined to agree.
You can read our comments in Natural HR’s article on the four-day workweek here.