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Four-day week: the trial begins

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 08 Jun 2022

As of Monday, a four-day working week – on full pay – became reality for more than 3,300 people around the UK. Is this the beginning of a new shift in working patterns?

From June to December 2022, more than 70 UK companies and organisations are trialling a four-day working week, with no loss in pay for employees. It is the biggest ever trial of a four-day week in the world.

More than 3,300 workers, based throughout the UK and representing more than 30 sectors, are receiving 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity.

The pilot is coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, in partnership with leading think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. 

The UK programme is running alongside similar pilots in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.

The pandemic created a sea change in terms of where we work – this pilot scheme could do the same for working patterns, depending on the feedback from management and workers alike. 

Anna Diski, spokesperson for the UK 4 Day Week Campaign, says that each organisation involved in the trial will be monitored throughout, using relevant metrics, with an impact assessment produced: “We’re aiming to define what success might look like for each organisation. There will also be a published report, collecting the data for the whole trial.” 

As we look at different working patterns and consider whether the traditional five-day, 40-hour week is right for the 21st century, we consider the key questions businesses should ask themselves before making a change.

Work-life balance is key to a happier, potentially more productive workforce, and while a four-day week certainly offers more ‘you’ time, there is a possibility that staff may feel extra pressure to get everything done within the reduced hours, which could lead to increased stress, burnout and reduced quality of work. To avoid this situation, clear boundaries are needed, says Andrew Duncan, Partner and EMEA CEO at Infosys Consulting: “It’s clear that flexibility-forward is the approach of the future, however, ensuring these policies are properly structured is key to making them a success.

“With the launch of four-day working week trials, outlining clear parameters around these policies will be vital. Failure to do so risks a downturn in quality as talent attempts to squeeze the same amount of work into a shorter week.

“This also poses risks from a people management point of view – potentially resulting in burnout or staff working outside of agreed hours, setting back aims to improve work-life balance.”

Marcus Beaver, UKI Country Leader at Alight Solutions, agrees that employers will need to monitor this, and provide options for change if new working arrangements are not working for some employees. “A trial of a four-day work week is crucial in determining how successful it can be. Some sectors might be better equipped to make it work and ensure their employees feel supported, while others might struggle.

“We should enforce a culture that fosters flexibility that works for everyone, especially with employee well-being in mind. 

Paul Modley, Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at AMS, a global provider of talent outsourcing and advisory services, comments: “Without appropriate implementation, employees can become disengaged or even feel disgruntled with the forced reduction of days. In an economy where talent shortages are rife and retaining staff is a critical business priority, it’s important to ensure that any changes to work set-ups are delivering against the needs of individuals as well as the company.”

There is also the possibility that a four-day week, while giving an extra day a week of free time, may not actually offer the flexibility needed for some to juggle home and family life.

Attar Naderi, Associate Director Europe & MENA at Laserfiche, says: “The fixed hours of the four-day week may still be too restrictive for some. If business leaders want to offer true flexibility, should they instead relax established shift patterns and let employees choose when they work? 

“Ultimately, to discover what works best for your workforce, it may be worth trialling a period of flexible working – whether through subscribing to the four-day model, or even allowing employees to control their own diaries. You might find it to be one of your best workplace policies yet.”

As Beaver says: “Time will tell how successful this experiment is, but it will surely be a pivotal moment for the future of the world of work. The outcome could settle once and for all if four-day work weeks are a positive or just wishful thinking.”

For further information about the four-day week pilot, see Four-day week: is it time to make the change?

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