The four-day working week – is it the future?

June 20, 2023

By Damian Phillips

A recent nationwide pilot of a four-day working week showed positive results, but what are the benefits of a four-day week for employers? Our employment team looks at how this can work in practice and whether this really could be the future of work in the UK.

The pilot, conducted by research company Autonomy, recruited 61 UK-based organisations to trial a four-day working week with their employees from June-December 2022. The results reported were positive in terms of not only employee satisfaction but also business performance.

What might a four-day week look like?

There is no universal model for a four-day week. During the pilot, different organisations adopted different approaches to fit their own cultures and business requirements. These models included:

  • Closing the business completely for an extra day a week
  • A staggered approach where different employees take different days off
  • Different departments incorporating different models, dependant on their operational needs
  • Averaging the work hours across the year, dependant on seasonal fluctuations.

What were the results of the trial?

The results from the 6-month pilot showed that:

  • Employee wellbeing was considerably improved, with 71% of employees reporting reduced levels of burnout at the end of the 6 months and 37% reporting an improvement in their physical health.
  • Business data also showed a positive result, with company revenue seeing a slight rise of 1.4% on average despite the reduction in working hours – and a 35% increase in revenue compared to the same period in previous years.
  • Staff departures fell by 57% over the trial period.
  • 56 of the 61 organisations continued with the scheme after the 6-month period, 18 of which decided to make the 4-day week a permanent change straight away.

One of the organisations which took part in the pilot was Merthyr Valley Homes, whose HR Director, Ruth Llewellyn, gave us a first-hand account on how this change impacted the organisation at the Wales HR Network Conference held earlier this year. Ruth reported that the scheme led to better co-operation between teams, greater efficiency (e.g. reducing unnecessary meetings), innovative ideas from employees, as well as an increase in applicants for job vacancies.

Is this the future for employers in the UK?

At a time when employees increasingly value non-financial benefits, measures to promote physical and mental health such as the four-day week can be an important tool for recruitment and retaining employees.

When combined with the initial pilot results showing that businesses generally did not lose revenue as a result of the change (and in some cases gained revenue), this may be an attractive prospect for employers in many sectors which are facing recruitment and staff turnover issues. However, it will be crucial for any employer considering making the change to fully explore not just the pros and cons but also the best way of implementing it, including the employment law and HR implications for its workforce.

Do you want advice on implementing a four-day working week? Contact our employment team or call us on 02920 829 100 for a free initial chat to see how we can help you.

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