Should you adopt the four-day week?

The four-day working week is attracting increasing interest all over the world. Trials are taking place, political parties are including it in their manifestos, and employees are asking their employers for it.  The concept of the four-day week, however, is nothing new. It has been around for decades, in various forms and undertaken to varying levels of success.

Over the last few years, there has been more research on the benefits and drawbacks of the four-day week.  It has been associated with improved employee wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity.  At the same time, it has been associated with work intensification too, and some of the benefits have been found to have only a short-term effect. 

Deciding whether it is right for your organisation is a difficult task.  If you are interested in the four-day week, here are a few things you need to think about.

Which form of the four-day week would work for you?

There is no one, single way to operate a four-day week.  There are generally three different forms:

  • A compressed week where employees work full time hours in four days, resulting in longer days but for the same pay.
  • Reducing the working week to four days for a pro rata reduction in pay.
  • A four day week for no pay reduction – often based on the assumption that employees will be able to maintain the same level of production if they work in a smart way.

The latter version of the four-day week is the one that is most desired – perhaps unsurprisingly! 

Once the particular form of four-day week is determined, the next steps are to think about the how.  Before making a change of this magnitude, a trial is always a good idea.  Key questions you should consider are:

  • How long will it take for you to assess success?  What should the terms of reference be for your trial, and how long will it last?
  • What policy or guidance will you issue, and what will it say (look out for a future blog on this soon!).
  • What does success look like for you in your particular organisational context, and how will you measure it?  Will you focus on productivity, creativity, profit, customer satisfaction, wellbeing, employee engagement or innovation – to suggest just a few!
  • What ways of working will you need to change to support success? What systems, processes and resources are needed?
  • What training will you provide managers to help them navigate this change and manage in a way that supports success in a four-day week?
  • How will you ensure that the four-day week is implemented in a way that supports wellbeing and inclusion – two key risks areas in flexible forms of work. 
  • How will you engage and communicate with your employees?
  • After a trial period, what will be the decision making factors that will help you to decide if the change becomes permanent?

There is no single ‘best’ way to implement a four-day week.  It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Whether it’s the right choice for any particular business depends on various factors, including your industry, customers, the type of work that people do and the ultimate goals of the organisation.  The research suggests that there are very real potential benefits, but it also can come with challenges and problems too – these must be clearly identified and understood, with mitigation built into the plan.  

Whether any particular four-day week programme is ultimately successful depends on the approach taken, its implementation and scaffolding.  Any introduction of a four-day week requires careful planning and evaluation. Whether or not your company should adopt a four-day working week is a decision that should be made after thorough consideration of the impacts, assessment of risk and consultation with employees.