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Some bumps in the road – a further analysis of the four-day working week

Sep 29, 2022

June 2022 marked the start of a four-day working week pilot which was conducted by non-for-profit organisation, 4 Day Week Global. As explained within our previous article, the scheme pays particular focus on how well the ‘100:80:100’ business model works and the potential challenges faced.

The aim of the 100:80:100 is simple in principle – an employee will retain 100% of their full-time salary and only need to work 80% of the time but would need to provide the same 100% productivity in exchange. As Alex Harper explained, there is a potential for employers to position themselves as forward thinking and flexible working practitioners, which could in turn provide a great PR boost. Backed by university research and trialling across Spain, New Zealand and Japan, how will the results pan out for the UK?

Established by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, 4 Day Week maintain that working on a reduced timetable provides increased wellbeing and engagement from staff, that ‘work smarter, rather than longer’.  As we reach just over the half way point of this trial, how far do these statements ring true?

This week, the British businesses who have taken part shed some light on the pros and cons of the four-day week so far. More than 70 organisations and 3,330 workers signed up across the UK. Of the 73 global organisations conducting the trial period, 41 have provided feedback.

The statistics

A series of questions were posed the those participating in the survey and ranked on a scale of 1 to 5.

Up to 86% have confirmed that they would like to continue with the four-day working week once the pilot has finished. Nicci Russel, Managing Director of Waterwise, stated that whilst this adapted working pattern was not a ‘walk in the park’, employees enjoyed having an extra day out of the office and do return to work refreshed. Russel explained that this scheme has been great for the wellbeing of his staff and has seen more productivity as a consequence.

A great example of the 100:80:100 model so far is Microsoft Japan. In August 2019, the company swapped the traditional working model to the 4 day working week and the results were impressive. They reported a near 40% rise in productivity and even saw a 20% decrease in the use of electricity used within the office. Employers in 2022 may contemplate implementing such working patterns as we continue to delve into this cost of living crisis as a way of cutting corporate energy bills. Whilst employees would retain their salaries, employers may find the savings made are related to their overall carbon footprint.

Another result found that 88% of the respondents state that the scheme has ‘worked well’ for their business; with 46% saying that productivity has remained around the same level, 34% report that it has ‘slightly improved’ and 15% state that it has ‘improved significantly’. Whilst this is positive in supporting the 100:80:100 model, the percentage of vastly improved productivity remains relatively small. This may be down to the prematurity of the results so it will be interesting to understand if this percentage continues to rise once the 6 months are up and the scheme comes to an end.

On the contrary, other businesses have found the trial scheme more challenging. This is largely due to working on a completely different operational model to the rest of the country, who continue working the conventional 50-day pattern. Samantha Losey, founder of communications company ‘Unity’, has said that they ‘more than likely won’t carry this scheme on’. She notes that “one of things that has struck me is whether or not we are a mature enough business to be able to handle a four-day week”. Whilst Unity will commit to finishing the pilot, its likely permanent implementation is questionable. Some companies have also found that the scheme has disrupted recruitment, as they cannot be sure that it will roll-out on a long term basis. The 4 Day Week note that four-day weeks will provide a competitive edge to businesses when attracting talent but in order to do so, companies will need to implement the four-day week permanently. When the pilot comes to an end in December 2022, it will be interesting to ascertain how many companies will continue with the scheme.

Summary

Generally speaking, we are yet to obtain further details of the practical issues faced with regards to measuring productivity – from working around employees with previous reduced working hours to assessing if overall demands of the business were met. Whilst British workers are amongst the top scorers in working hours, the output per hour is amongst the lowest. Therefore, despite spending longer at work, it can be said that people are taking twice as long to actually provide the work. With this in mind, shortening the week to 4 days may be beneficial in increasing productivity as people may be more efficient both in the office and with their workload. But, with this, there may be increased bouts of stress which may lead employees to feel more pressured to ensure that the work is provided quickly – inevitably leading to mistakes. This catch 22 situation which would need to be assessed and applied on the individual company, which may be dependent on what sector it falls into.

This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

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