4-day week pilot begins in the UK

From June to December 2022, more than 60 UK companies are trialling a 4-day working week, with no loss in pay for employees. With more than 3,000 workers representing over 30 sectors receiving 100% for 80% working time, it is the biggest ever trial of a 4-day week in the world. The pilot is coordinated by 4-Day Week Global, in partnership with researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College. The UK pilot is running alongside similar trials in Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.  

The pilot scheme is voluntary and does not make any immediate changes to existing employment laws, nor does it introduce any new laws. It may put pressure on the government to bring forward outstanding proposals on giving employees the right to request flexible working from day-one of employment (currently, employees must have 26 weeks’ service to submit a flexible working request). However, it is used to show employers and employees a different way of working, and to measure its impact and success in line with clear, pre-set metrics. 

The pilot has been met with mixed reactions; many have supported the idea and believe that changes to working practices have been a long time coming, since the last time there was a shift of this nature was in 1926 when Ford Motor Company standardised the Monday-Friday pattern. Before this, the common practice was a 6-day working week, with only Sundays off. Evidently, much has changed since 1926, so critics believe employers need to keep up with the times and adapt again.  

The pandemic initiated a shift in employees’ priorities and expectations, with many more focusing on having an effective work-life balance. As such, more employees are looking to their employer to facilitate flexible and hybrid working arrangements. Those who don’t do so risk losing key staff to competitors; this continues to be seen as part of the “Great Resignation.”  

As living costs continue to rise, there are also now extra pressures on employers to support employees financially. With a 4-day week, employees are saving on commuter costs, lunch expenses and childcare fees. Whilst it might seem minor, these all add up to benefit the employee. Similarly, research has suggested a 4-day working week would help close the gender pay gap and allow women to take on better paying and promoted positions. At the moment, women typically have greater childcare responsibilities than males, so are often limited to part-time working patterns. But, 4-day weeks for both men and women would allow both to spend more time at home. 

However, there are also many challenges to be seen with a 4-day working week. First is the practical difficulties of implementing the arrangement. Employers must seek agreement from their employees before making any changes to their contractual terms and conditions. Whilst a reduction in working hours will likely be favoured by many, such an outcome cannot be assumed.   

Reduced days have been criticised for not recognising the underlying causes of employee burnout and dissatisfaction, namely that their workloads are overwhelming. Oftentimes, employees on 4-day weeks are still expected to produce the same levels of work, so find themselves more stressed due to the lack of time they have to complete it. They may feel forced to work overtime during evening or weekends which, ultimately, can end up causing more problems than you started with. 

Therefore, once the changes have been consulted and accepted, employers must still monitor the performance and attitudes of their people. It will be interesting to see the results of this trial, and the wider impact on working patterns following its completion. 

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