Harriet Calver: Is the four-day week worthwhile for employers?

A four-day work week is not a new phenomenon. Many employees in the UK already have this pattern, typically agreed on a case-by-case basis between employee and employer following a flexible working request. It tends to be accompanied by a corresponding reduction in pay, except in the case of compressed hours, where the employee is simply squeezing the same amount of work time into a shorter week.

For employees, the advantages of working one less day a week for the same amount of pay are obvious: they will have more free time to do the things they enjoy, which will inevitably increase overall happiness. But in what ways could the reduced working week benefit employers?

Improving employee happiness and wellbeing has many potential commercial benefits for employers including increased performance and productivity, reduced absenteeism, better recruitment and retention, and positive social and environmental impact.

If an organisation is asking for 100% productivity from employees in consideration for a reduction in working hours, it is going to be critical to have the right support, technology and workplace culture in place to enable this. Otherwise, inefficiencies will inevitably arise which will undermine the success of the shorter working week.

Although the success of the four-day working week model relies on employees doing fewer hours, there is a danger that unless clear parameters are set, employees’ hours could creep up to previous levels if the workload is the same, resulting in longer and more stressful days. If this happens, wellbeing and productivity would most likely decrease rather than increase, negating the benefits of the shorter week.

In customer-facing businesses, a potential pitfall of the four-day working week is not being able to properly service customers leading to poor customer satisfaction. While this could be a potential issue for some organisations, it could be overcome fairly easily by most simply by keeping the business open for five days a week while staggering the days on which employees are not working so the week is fully covered.

For employers who currently have a number of employees working four days a week on reduced pay, particular care will need to be given as to how the change will impact the existing arrangements of these employees, and how it is communicated to them.

A four-day working week model clearly won’t suit every business and will require genuine support from both leaders and employees, as well the appropriate technology and infrastructure, to give it any chance of success. For businesses considering the move to the four-day working week, our advice is to take time to properly assess how it will impact on your business, weighing up the positives and negatives, and to consult with employees to garner their views, before making any firm decisions.

Before making the four-day week a permanent change, a trial period is a sensible way of establishing whether it is really right for your business.

Harriet Calver is a senior associate at Winckworth Sherwood