Four-day working week: Is it worth it in practice?
The four-day working week is a topic of much debate, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether it is worth it in practice.
Some studies suggest that reducing the number of working days in a week can increase productivity and job satisfaction. For example, Microsoft Japan conducted a trial of a four-day working week in 2019 and reported a 40% increase in productivity. Another study by the University of Iceland found that employees who worked shorter hours reported lower levels of stress and improved well-being.
When the idea was touted, my honest reaction was, “What a load of rubbish” – it’ll never go anywhere.
The UK lags 13% behind the average productivity of other G7 nations, so how can we move forward without working five days?
Like most other entrepreneurs – especially those from Yorkshire – I believe there is no substitute for hard work. Hard work + resilience will get you where you want to be.
Some people say, ‘Work smart, not hard’. My opinion has always been, why can’t we do both?
So, the thought of cutting back to four days made me recoil, especially for service-led businesses that bill on time – and other sectors, such as manufacturing, where labour hours are what pays. It would simply not be feasible to reduce the working week by 20%.
The average working week in the UK ranges from 40 to 42.5 hours a week. So, without a cut in hours, that would mean working 12 hours daily for 4 days per week. For most people, that is not possible.
As a mother of two young boys and a director of two businesses, working 12-hour days for one day off is impractical. And it would simply alienate those with families from joining the workforce.
And for people working from home, they would take fewer breaks and get less movement between tasks.
With increased work intensity and more porous boundaries between home and work, it would be even more difficult to mentally remove themselves from work, raising the risk of exhaustion/burnout.
What about firms where the hours are cut to 32?
This is the only possible way forward for a four-day week, but I am not convinced even then.
Very few businesses could justify cutting their working hours without a pay cut – something would have to give. The company would need a 20% increase in productivity to compensate for the lost time. Otherwise, it would end up in lost revenue.
I have recently seen a few case studies of companies that have trialled it themselves and found negative results…
Slumber Yard, Matthew Ross, COO –
“Beyond the initial boost in employee morale, our experience with the four-day work week was generally negative […] in our audit. The first 60 minutes of each day were largely wasted. Since the employees had to arrive earlier, they treated the first hour as their de-facto morning wake-up period. They’d get coffee, chat with co-workers, and surf the internet.” He also found that the last two hours of each day weren’t productive either, with staff hitting concentration walls and rates of surfing the internet and time spent on social media spiking in this window.”
Big Potato, Emily Bond, Head of Sales –
“From a sales perspective, you have one less day a week to search out new leads and customers. if a client wanted something urgently and knew I wasn’t in on a Friday, they might go to another company.”
I would suggest to companies in industries such as manufacturing to look at other ways to motivate their staff by delivering innovative, flexible roles. And the word innovation is critical here.
Just as these sectors are not readily suited to a four-day working week, they are also more difficult to make more generally flexible. Doing so requires clever solutions, carefully crafted and tested by people who understand how flexible job design works.