With the ground-breaking pilot of the four-day working week seeing 56 out of 61 firms extending the reduced working arrangement, business owners have felt the social and commercial value as well as the longevity of the scheme.
The six-month government trial, which started on 6 June 2022, began with more than 70 firms and 3,300 employees taking part, with 86% of businesses saying they were likely to make the change permanent after trials if they were successful*.
Run by not-for-profit advocacy groups – 4 Day Week Global, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and UK think tank Autonomy, as well as researchers at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and Boston College – the scheme was designed to study the impact of shorter working hours on employee productivity and wellbeing with greater flexibility and a better work-life balance, with no reduced workload or loss of pay.
Nicki Robson, managing director at Breedon Consulting, discusses her thoughts on the four-day week and the legal HR considerations of moving to the new model.
How does it work for part-time employees?
Nicki said: “The idea of the four-day working week has been deliberated for years, but the pandemic and introduction of widespread remote working reignited interest in the idea.
“While the concept appears to come with many benefits, such as an extra day off every week and no reduced pay, how does this affect those who already work part-time and receive a pro-rata wage? Will they now be paid a full-time wage without needing to increase their hours?
“It’s also important to consider how you will monitor levels of productivity over a shorter week, in comparison to those who already work fewer hours and receive pro-rata pay. It’s really not as straight forward as it might at first appear and employers could inadvertently walk into claims of discrimination from their existing part time workers.”
Sticking to working hours
46% of those who trialled the concept said productivity levels stayed at the same level, while 34% agreed that levels had improved slightly with 15% said significantly*.
Nicki said: “With most employees being expected to deliver the same level of output, which will now be spread across four days rather than five, will we start to see eight-hour days extended to ten?
“The pressure to get five days’ work done in four could lead to staff burnout, increased stress levels and no improvement in work-life balance, which leaves me to question whether business owners will actually see positive wellbeing and greater productivity from their employees.
“Will we see workers struggling to fit their workload into four days? And as a result, either work late into the night, end up working their allocated ‘day off’ or spend their extra day catching up from the week.”
What happens on days off?
For businesses that plan to continue operations for customers and clients across five days, then they must establish which days employees will be available and whether they’ll be contactable on their days off.
Nicki said: “This also leads to other questions, such as what happens if the workload is not complete by the end of the week? And if work isn’t complete will an employee be expected to work the extra day or will colleagues be expected to pick it up, leading to yet more pressure? If employees worked on their day off, would they receive time in lieu? Would client relationships be damaged if their key contact wasn’t available one day every week? These are all key points that need to be considered.
“There’s also the possibility that employees who suddenly have an extra free day each week may choose to take up additional work, either on a part time basis or as part of the gig economy. Given the current cost of living crisis, employees may see this as an ideal opportunity to increase their income, which flies in the face of the reason for the four-day week in the first place.
“Overall, the idea of a four-day week is one that excites many and seems to be a solution to having happier staff and a more productive workforce. However, there are several HR and legal requirements that business owners need to consider in order to adopt this approach and make it work for the current and future workforce.
“I would suggest that any employers who are thinking of implementing the four-day week should proceed with caution and initially introduce it on a trial basis, giving them the opportunity to amend the scheme or revert back if it doesn’t work out. This needs to be clear from the outset to avoid the need for formal consultation to revert back.”
Breedon Consulting offers free 15-minute consultations to provide advice to business owners.
* 4 Day Week Global three-month trial survey | September 2022