It’s here – a four-day work week: but is it here to stay?

By Teamspirit on Monday, 31 January 2022

On the 17th January 2022, think tank Autonomy, with support from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, launched the Four-Day Week campaign.

Did we hear that correctly? Yes, the official trial of a four-day working week has finally launched in the UK! During the trial, employees will be paid the same amount as if they were working a full five-day week to confirm whether businesses and their employees are more productive with longer weekends.

After almost two years of intermittent lockdowns, the news of the Four-Day Week pilot programme might not have landed with the greatest of splashes. Let’s be honest, after months of working from home and two winter periods shuffling back and forth from our home desks to the sofa and back; news of even more time at home might not be the most exciting.

But in truth, it really is. With 30 UK companies signed up to a six-month trial, the aim is to bring about a shift in how businesses view and assess productivity. By focussing more on results and outputs, we could see a new way of working centred around employee’s wellbeing and mindset to work. The thinking being, that the better people feel day-to-day workload, the more engaged and motivated they will feel about their careers.

And yet, while the UK’s pilot follows hot on the heels of initial successes in Iceland, Spain the US, Canada and Australia to name a few there’s not a lot of guidance around the logistics and practicalities of the scheme. It’s clear for this to become permanent, more guidance on how to implement it is needed including how holidays are structured and what salaries and hours are required.

That aside, it is also hoped that boosting the amount of non-working time the UK workforce has, - beyond evenings and the weekend –could help alleviate the pressures of the working week and increase our overall feeling of autonomy. Poor mental health at work is estimated to cost employers between £33 to 42 billion, equivalent to almost 2% of UK GDP. It’s also estimated that 300,000 people move out of work due to poor mental health on a yearly basis. Against this backdrop, the shift to a shorter working week could be a radical solution helping improve the wellbeing of staff and controlling costs for employers.

Beyond this, there are bigger environmental and societal benefits at play too. The hope is that fewer working hours, and thereby a reduction in commutes across the UK’s major cities, will mean lower carbon emissions. There’s also research to show that a four-day working week would lead to the creation of up to half a million jobs in the public sector – helping to turn the tide on recent spikes in unemployment rates.

Amid hybrid working policies and the gradual return to offices now Plan B restrictions are lifting, the result of the six-month pilot is certainly going to be interesting. Can we really do it, or will the work suffer? Regardless, companies need to think about what they can offer the new generation of workers, be it no-limit holidays, core versus. soft hours or an extended weekend – all of these are worth a look in as we think about what the future of work looks like this year onwards.

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