Could a four-day work week help you retain staff?

Gemma O'Connor - Services and Operations Manager

March 07 2023

First Published: March 7th 2023
Last Updated: March 7th 2023

The four-day week has made headlines in recent years as businesses around the world have trialled the idea or even gone ahead and implemented it as a work practice.

Recent UK research has found that both employers and employees reported benefits working this way.

56 of the 61 companies that took part in the recent UK pilot programme have committed to continue working a four-day week and to gather more data while 18 of the companies confirmed that they are making the change permanent.

Importantly, from an employer’s point of view, the pilot also found that:

  • Revenue at each organisation stayed broadly the same on average over the trial period.
  • A majority of the companies reported no loss of productivity during the trial.
  • The number of employees that left the participating organisations dropped sharply by 57% compared to the same period in previous years.

The recent UK report on the pilot programme concluded that the four-day week is now ready to take the next step from experimentation to implementation.

Meanwhile a smaller UCD research project trialled the four-day working week in Ireland. The pilot project operated under a partnership with Four Day Week Global - a not-for-profit organisation advocating for the four-day working week.

The UCD research team worked alongside Four-Day Week Ireland and trade union Fórsa.

Twelve companies took part in the six-month Irish programme, and all reported a range of positive outcomes, including increased productivity and reduced energy usage.

Nine of the twelve companies said they planned to continue with the four-day-week schedule while just one organisation reported a decline in its monthly revenue growth.

What are the employer upsides of the four-day week?

The recent research along with other international studies have found that working a four-day week can:

  • Boost productivity levels as employees enjoy the extra time away from work and tend to be more focused on completing their work when they are in the workplace.
  • Reduce costs if the business can arrange it that employees work the same four days.
  • Increase employee satisfaction and reduce stress through greater work-life balance.
  • Boost recruitment and retention efforts.

What are the employee upsides of the four-day week?

The UCD research found significant improvements in well-being metrics. Staff reported positive results in overall satisfaction and in particular work-family and work-life balance.

Employees were universal in their praise of the trial, reporting reduced stress, burnout, and fatigue while being able to sleep more each night and spending more time on hobbies, as well as community and voluntary work.

How to put a four-day week into practice?

In practice, a four-day week means putting five days of work into four.

It’s very important that any transition to a four-day week includes consideration of the level of service clients or customers have come to expect. The challenge for business owners is figuring out if clients and customers will continue to receive the same service level under a four-day working week business model.

If you are considering a four-day week, it’s best to plan carefully and to run a trial period.

If the trial is successful, you will need to update your employment documentation to include updated contract terms and policies setting out in black and white how exactly the four-day week will work in practice.

It’s a bold move to make for any business owner but in a tight labour market, it is certainly likely to attract the attention of potential employees as well as encourage existing staff to stay on.

Bottom line

There are many benefits to the four-day work week but it requires complete buy-in from both employer and employees if it is to work in practice.

A less revolutionary option for employers may be to make any temporary, pandemic-related flexible and hybrid working policies permanent. This would be a less radical change for your business to adjust to and will equally be appreciated by employees.

For some business owners, the four-day model simply won’t work. There are other options for employers seeking to help staff to improve their wellbeing.

Flexible work, generous annual leave and paid health insurance have all been found to boost employee engagement, morale, and productivity.

Think the four-day work week might work for your business?

Making fundamental changes to the workplace is a big call so it’s a good idea to take expert HR advice before confirming any decisions.

As a business owner, you need to consider your customers first and foremost.

If you don’t know where to start, speak with one of our HR experts today on 1800 719 216.

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