The challenges and benefits of a four-day working week

The concept of a four-day working week is nothing new. It’s long been on the agendas of politicians, workers unions and innovative businesses who are eager to reimagine the traditional 40-hour work week. While only a few brave souls have been willing to trial it previously, it seems that the tables are about to turn. 

Lockdowns, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic this year, have revolutionised the working styles and patterns of businesses and their employees. A large portion of the UK have found themselves adapting to working from home and utilising digital technologies more than ever before.  

After seeing the benefits of a dispersed and remote working team, many businesses have come to accept this ‘new normal’ and are now questioning whether there are other improvements that could be made to way their teams work. This has resulted in renewed and increased interest in the implementation of the four-day working week. 

But could a shortened work week help to improve business productivity and employee well-being, or could it actually be a hindrance? In this guide, we take a look at the challenges and benefits that can come from a shortened working week to help you decide whether its right move for your business. 

Benefits 

It can improve employee wellbeing 

Did you know that 37% of UK businesses saw an increase in stress-related absence last year, according the Breathe Sick Report? A four-day working week can provide your team with an extra day to de-stress and recharge their batteries which is good for both their physical and mental health. It can also give them more time to spend with their loved ones which can also help to improve wellbeing. 

But what does this mean for your business? Helping your team to improve their physical and mental wellbeing can drastically reduce the number of sick days they take and can also increase their morale, loyalty and retention.   

It can increase productivity 

Many businesses are concerned about trialling a shortened working week because they think it will impact their team’s productivity, which is understandably the last thing they want. But in fact, the four-day working week has been found to either improve or maintain employee’s overall engagement and productivity in the workplace.  

When Microsoft Japan conducted a month-long trial of a four-day working week last year, they found that their team’s productivity increased by a whopping 40%. These are stats that are certainly hard to ignore. 

It can help with hiring and retention 

Offering attractive perks can be a sure-fire way of enticing talented professional to your door and a four-day working week is certainly an attractive selling point. Millennials in particular have been found to want more flexible working options and as this is still a relatively new offering, it will certainly go a long way in piquing their interest. 

Not only will it make finding new employees easier, but it can also encourage them to stay with your business for longer. Knowing that they have an extra weekend day can keep employees motivated and engaged each week, whilst also improving their overall mood. 

Challenges 

It won’t work for every business 

While many industries have been able to effectively adapt and embrace remote working in response to the pandemic, this may not necessarily be the case for the four-day working week. Despite the fantastic benefits, some businesses simply aren’t able to function effectively on a shortened work week, particularly those that offer critical services to others.  

Managing work for clients that work five days a week when your business works four can be problematic, particularly when issues arise. Some clients might prefer working with a company that works the same hours as their own team. Not being able to sustain the quality of service their customers and clients are used to could lead to dissatisfaction, frustration and a loss of business. 

It can increase pressure on certain employees 

Even with all of the best intentions, it’s likely that it will take some time for every person on your team to fully embrace and adapt to such a considerable change to their working week. Change affects us all in different ways; some might take to it like a duck to water, whereas others might find it disruptive, chaotic and stressful initially. 

For instance, shorter working weeks might increase pressure on employees with strict client deadlines or those working on large projects. It can take time for your  whole team to get on board and get used to this new routine and this could be time you simply don’t have as a business. Offering your team, the option to work either a four- or five-day week could be an alternative. 

It can cause financial stress and burnout 

Sometimes working a standard working week and being paid a standard salary isn’t quite enough to cover a person’s basic needs. Working overtime can be a valuable lifeline that can provide additional funds needed for bills, food and childcare. The transition to a four-day working week can be difficult for those who rely on these working extra hours to top up their monthly salary.   

There is a danger that shortening the working week could force some of your employees to work more to make up the difference. This could result in them working 12–14-hour days to try and squeeze in the same amount of work into fewer days. This has the potential to lead to burnout and poor physical and mental health if left unaddressed for too long.  


If you’re considering implementing a  four-day working week for your business, we hope this guide has offered some food for thought. While there are some potential pitfalls, if you communicate with your team, consider the outcomes and plan accordingly, you’ll have a far greater chance of success.  

 

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Richard Connolly

20th December

hiring-advice insight