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Is a four day working week the future for UK employers?

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Campaign group ‘4 Day Week Global’ recently undertook a large scale trial of a four day working week, overseen by the thinktank ‘Autonomy’ and a team of academics. 61 UK companies took part in this trial, which lasted six months and during which employees were able to work four days instead of five whilst continuing to receive their usual salary.

Of these 61 companies, 92 percent have decided to continue with a four day week with 30 percent stating that this would be a permanent change moving forward. These results are unsurprising, as previous surveys (such as a survey in 2021 by recruitment company Reed) have demonstrated that more than 80% of people in the UK would prefer a four day working week. However, this trial has demonstrated how such a proposal would work in practice.

Companies that have taken part in the trial have stated that the four day working week has created a new focus on employee well-being and demonstrated the importance of a good work-life balance. Indeed, employee surveys taken before and after the trial demonstrated a significant reduction in employee stress levels and an increase in both sleep quality and work-life balance.

Alongside the obvious benefits to employees, the benefits to employers have also been clear, with the number of sick days taken by employees during the trial falling by approximately two thirds and the number of employees leaving the companies falling by 57%. The result of this in the long term is likely to be a significant reduction in recruitment and administration costs. In addition, when compared to similar periods from previous years, the participating companies reported revenue increases of 35% on average. The reduction in working hours would also reduce employer overheads, such as electricity and gas costs.

A four day working week may seem desirable, however it may not be workable for all types of industries, for example in retail where shops are required to be open 7 days a week or in industries such as transport and emergency services. However, there may be ways that employers can make it work - for example implementing shift patterns whereby all days are covered but each member of staff is working less than previously, or choosing a different model such as shorter days and/or finishing early on a Friday. This may be an administrative headache initially, however as demonstrated above could prove fruitful for employers in the long run.

Post-Covid, many employers are increasingly flexible about hybrid working and are more open to different models of working. The next step therefore may be for employers to consider implementing a four day working week, or even a trial of a shorter working week, and assessing the benefits of such a proposal on their business. Such action may allow employers to “get ahead of the game” as Labour MPs have already proposed a four-day working week as the future norm and therefore there may be the potential of it being the future for all UK businesses.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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