Is a 4-day working week around the corner?

The last year has seen huge changes to the way we work, with remote working on the rise. Could the next change be a four-day working week?

A four-day working week is something a handful of companies have been offering employees in recent years, providing workers with more flexibility. Although it has yet to take off on a national level, Spain could be about to lead the way in a workplace revolution.

The Spanish government has agreed to launch a modest pilot project for companies interested in reducing the number of days their employees work. While expected to be on a relatively small scale, it’s an opportunity to test an idea that’s often discussed. The finer details have yet to be worked out, but it’s expected that the pilot will last three years and allow companies to trial reduced hours with minimal risk by covering a portion of potential losses.

It’s expected around 200 Spanish companies – collectively employing between 3,000 and 6,000 workers – will participate.

What does a 4-day working week mean?

Not all four-day working weeks would be the same.

Some firms may allow employees to work four-day weeks, but still expect them to work the same number of hours that they would over five days. This can be an attractive option and provide employees with more freedom. However, it’s not so much a four-day week in the sense of time spent working, but rather a “compressed working week”.

The Spanish pilot aims to reduce the number of hours employees work without losing any salary or jobs in the process. Participating companies are expected to cut working hours by an average of eight a week while adjusting salary or hourly rates so that staff don’t lose out financially.

There are several benefits…

Supporters of the four-day working week list several benefits for changing the traditional Monday to Friday working hours. These include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved mental health and a better work-life balance
  • Less pressure on local services.

At the moment, research is often carried out at a business level only, rather than nationwide. However, this research and comments made by businesses testing a four-day week have generally been positive.

Research conducted in 2019 by the Henley Business School found two-thirds (64%) of UK businesses operating a four-day week reported improved staff productivity. Three-quarters (78%) said their employees were happier and six in ten (62%) noted the staff took fewer days off ill.

A third went on to say that the switch was important for success in the future – for instance, during the recruitment process.

This supports the feedback many companies have given while trialling a four-day working week. A Microsoft subsidiary in Japan, for example, found productivity increased by 40%. UK-based Target Publishing also reported positive responses after it introduced a four-day working week following a temporary pay cut due to Covid-19. One of the benefits highlighted by the firm is that the shift enabled them to identify inefficiencies, and they noted that meetings became much shorter.

…But the workplace revolution faces its critics

While there is evidence of the benefit of reducing working hours, it hasn’t convinced everyone. A critic from CEOE, a business association, claims it will reduce productivity and potentially harm businesses reports the Guardian. Those opposing the Spanish trial also say now is not the right time to be undertaking this experiment given the challenges of Covid-19 and the impact it’s had on the economy.

Naturally, there are concerns from businesses too. The Henley Business School research found 73% of businesses worry about making the change. The demands of client and customer servicing, and the need to be available throughout the week, was identified by 82% of businesses as a barrier to implementing the four-day week.

Will the UK embrace the 4-day working week?

UK employees are ready for a workplace shakeup. Some 72% agree that a four-day week is an attractive proposition and would impact their decision when looking for a new job. Yet, few companies are embracing the change in the UK so far. While it may be some time before the traditional Monday to Friday working week is no longer the norm in the UK, a change could be coming sooner than you think.

A true four-day working week won’t affect the money you take home, but it could still have an impact on your short- and long-term financial plans. Would having an extra day to yourself mean you end up spending more on entertainment or treats, affecting your budget, for example? Or would you choose to delay retirement? It’s likely to have some sort of financial, as well as lifestyle, impact if four days in the office became commonplace.

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