The Power Of A Four-Day Week

The Power Of A Four-Day Week

Office jobs may be synonymous with the five-day, nine-to-five grind, but calls to introduce a 28-hour, four-day working week instead are growing ever louder. With backing from the Labour party and the Trade Union, should we be embracing a shorter week and a longer weekend?

This month, the Trade Union Council has suggested introducing for a four-day maximum working week as part of its report into how changes to the workplace could benefit workers. Crucially, the change in hours would see employees working four days, but still being paid for five days. The report was based on a survey put to union members which showed it was the most popular working option, favoured by 45% of those surveyed, with 81% wanted a reduction of at least one day.

So what are the benefits? Under a four-day week – which equates to 28 hours per week – working long, tiring hours could soon be just a distant bad dream, with management being tasked with using new technology and the time that employees actually spend at work to improve Britain’s lack of productivity. The argument for the shortened week says that, not only do happier workers make more productive workers, but that employees feel more of a sense of loyalty and commitment to their employer thanks to improved working conditions.

research trial conducted in New Zealand by trustee company Perpetual Guardian, which put this reduced working week into place between March and April 2018, saw a positive discussion of the four-day week coming into fruition. Andrew Barnes, the Founder and CEO of the company, said the aim of the trial was to improve productivity and help employees better manage their work/life balance. The trial was studied by researchers at the Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland, and the results were positive and encouraging: work remained up to standard, whilst teamwork and work engagement increased. Perhaps most importantly, stress levels were significantly reduced.

A new study by Oxford University concurs on these findings, suggesting a three-day weekend could be the key to office productivity. As part of the study, over a six-month period, Associate Professor of Economics and Strategy, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, studied the happiness and productivity of 5,000 call centre workers from 20 BT offices. Workers were asked to rate their happiness every week on a scale from one to five.

The results showed how a four-day week was correlated with more positivity, an increased number of calls made, and a better quality of calls when customer satisfaction was measured. There were also fewer people calling in sick and a higher number of sales made.

However, some UK companies picked up on these benefits a long time before these findings came to light. East London design studio Normally are proud to offer their employees a four-day week. The whole studio has worked this way, without having to do extended hours, since it was founded in 2014, and say the results have been profitable and productive. While they don’t all have to take the same day off, many of them gravitate towards a Friday.

“We genuinely believe that having this balance improves the quality of our work,” they said. “But more than that – we have learned that giving ourselves an extra day has huge personal and social benefits. We have the time to take care of our families, our interests and ourselves.”

It doesn’t exactly work in the same way as Perpetual Guardian’s system – the company doesn’t pay its workers for the fifth day. But, Normally add, they “pay competitive salaries compared to similar businesses that work five days,” so employees don’t earn less. And as for the downsides of a reduced week? They’re miniscule: the company admitted the worst part about their system is that it wasn’t easy to adjust to working just four days as their employees were so conditioned to working five days previously. “It’s been a process of discovery,” they said. “And not always an easy one.”

Most seem to be catching on to the power of a reduced working week. Sweden has been famously trying out a six-hour day that pays an eight-hour salary – a year's worth of data from the project in 2016 showed that 68 nurses who worked six-hour days took half as much sick time as those who worked a normal working day, and were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week period, said Bengt Lorentzon, a researcher on the project.

The hardest part of introducing a four-day week seems to be convincing employers to actually allow the change to happen. But Normally has some pointers on convincing management to consider a reduced week:

  • First of all, senior management needs to believe it’s possible and trust the benefits – and convincing them is most likely the most difficult part.
  • They need to make organisational adjustments to working practices and behaviours; revisiting how the organisation collaborates and communicates, and redefining what productivity and commitment means to the organisation.
  • Finally, they need to protect it – the system needs full, non-negotiable commitment if employees are to trust it.

So, can we look forward to shorter weeks and longer weekends in the near-distant future? If Labour has anything to do with it, possibly – the party has announced its support of introducing a four-day week, and says it will be “coming forward with more details” this autumn.

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