Nearly a third (31%) of UK workers are actively looking for a four-day work week in 2022 or have already agreed to one with their current employer, according to research published by productivity platform ClickUp in January.
With fierce competition in the market for talent many employers have already obliged, with the likes of component supplier Accu, insurer iGO4 and data migration provider Wandisco recently announcing plans to move staff to a condensed working week. But what do employers need to know about making the move to a four-day week?
Consider the benefits
More than 500 organisations have registered interest in a co-ordinated pilot organised for the second half of this year by community organisation 4 Day Week Global. Joe Ryle, campaign director at UK body 4 Day Week, which is supporting the trial, says there are two main reasons employers should consider the switch.
“The first benefit is the boost to worker wellbeing through less stress, less burnout, less overwork and better mental health,” he says. “The second is greater productivity. A rested worker is a better worker.”
Trial shorter working hours
The 4 Day Week campaign advocates employees putting in 32 hours over four days in every seven, effectively doing the same amount of work for the same amount of pay as before but in 20% fewer hours, freeing them up for more rest and leisure activities, and thus stronger performance.
But employers should consult staff before introducing the pattern and run a clearly defined pilot that allows the system to be moulded in light of data and feedback, says Ryle.
“We recommend a trial period to allow tweaking along the way whether it is the day people have off or the way work is shared,” he says. “Look at results on wellbeing and productivity, as well as other impacts such as environmental and equality.”
The extra day off each week can be gifted to employees in the short-term with an option to change contracts if the pattern becomes permanent, Ryle adds. At this stage there are some decisions to be made, such as whether to reduce annual leave entitlement by a fifth, and what to do about part-time employees.
“Are their hours reduced in line with everybody else’s, or do they get higher pay or more annual leave or a combination?” asks Ryle.
Gauge employee appetite
Switching staff to a four-day week can be polarising, says Jamie Mackenzie, director at consultancy Sodexo Engage. “Before finalising any plans, employers must confirm the change would be welcomed by the majority of staff,” he explains.
Making sure organisations can facilitate the new pattern, and deciding how it will work for their market, is also critical.
Transparency is then key. “Employers should encourage individuals to come forward with any concerns, and welcome questions to make sure staff members remain fully informed,” adds Mckenzie.
Define performance indicators
Fitting five days’ work into four can be challenging and requires new approaches, says Mackenzie. “Streamlining business processes and endorsing efficiency is the trick to making the most of the time available,” he explains.
Employers should, therefore, think carefully before introducing a four-day week, says Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). She also advocates a trial period with measurement of defined performance indicators, and a solid review afterwards.
Making sure employees can genuinely get their work done in four standard days is important for the system to work. “There is a risk of people having to do longer days to get everything done, which can lead to high levels of stress,” she adds.
It is also important to consider flexible working in the round, and to listen to employees carefully.
“Some people might have flexible-working arrangements in place, such as staggered start and finish times, that might prove more difficult on a four-day week,” says McCartney. “It could mean informal flexibilities are taken away and people with caring responsibilities are less able to balance their work and personal lives.”
Organisations should look at performance reviews, employee surveys and quality conversations with line managers, as well as business performance data, before deciding on a permanent change.