What you need to know about the four-day working week pilot in the UK
It's no secret that the nation's typical working pattern has been disturbed over recent years, due to the pandemic. This has reignited conversations around flexible and hybrid working and their benefits.
Hailed as the future of work-life balance and productivity, trade unions across Europe have called on governments to implement the four-day working week. Many countries across the globe have trialled and adopted this reduced working pattern, but this time, it's the UK that is about to trial the four-day work week in a pilot scheme.
What is the UK's four-day work week pilot?
Over 3,000 UK workers across 60 companies are about to trial a four-day working week for six months. It's thought to be the largest pilot scheme that's ever taken place. It will run alongside similar pilot schemes in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The launch of the six-month trial of the reduced-hour work model was announced in January 2022 by 4 Day Week Global, which is working in partnership with think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College, and Oxford University.
February to May 2022 saw preparations for the trial take place, including registering for the programme, training and onboarding sessions, and establishing baseline metrics for the research aspect of the pilot. From June to November 2022, the UK's four-day working week pilot will take place.
Which companies are trialling the UK's four-day work week pilot?
As the pilot is open to any business, employees from a great range of companies and organisations are expected to take part in the scheme.
The businesses signed up currently offer services and products spanning education, consultancy, leadership, online retail, food, beverage, and hospitality, among others. They range in size from large corporates to local fish and chip shops and include Adzooma, the Royal Society of Biology, the London-based brewing company Pressure Drop, and Platten's Fish and Chips in Norfolk.
It is thought that 3,000 employees will participate.
Why is there a four-day work week pilot in the UK?
Companies and employees alike have pushed for the adoption of shorter working weeks, without a sacrifice in pay or perks. Four-day working week experiments run by governments and businesses in countries such as Spain, Japan, New Zealand, and Iceland have reported promising results. In fact, workers reported a 25 to 40% increase in productivity, plus an improved work-life balance, with more time to spend with family and children, amongst other benefits.
Combined with the fallout of the pandemic and the shift to remote and hybrid working, this trial will help companies to re-examine their working patterns to see if alternatives to the standard nine-to-five, five-day work week are possible.
The UK's four-day working week trial will examine how this working pattern might work across a range of companies and industries, to see if this way of working is a viable option. The added benefit of the trial is that 4 Day Week Global is helping to put organisations in the best possible position to succeed, by supplying unparalleled access to expertise, tools, and resources.
What is a four-day work week?
A four-day work week is exactly as it sounds: you work for four days in a week, rather than a typical five-day pattern. Crucially, though, there is no reduction in pay. That means 100% of the pay for 80% of the working hours.
It's worth noting two nuances. Firstly, the four-day work week refers to 80% of the working hours, not necessarily 80% of the work. As mentioned, studies report that staff were more productive with a shorter work week, suggesting that the same level of work is achieved despite the reduction in time.
Secondly, in its truest form, the four-day work week does not compress the same amount of hours into the four days, although working compressed hours is also a form of flexible working. However, some employees on four-day work weeks have suggested that there is an expectation to be available on their day off if that falls on a weekday, for important calls or tasks.
If anything, this highlights the importance of the four-day work week pilot in the UK, which is likely to give employers insight into getting the initiative right.
What are the pros of a four-day work week?
Some of the reported benefits of a four-day work week include:
There is a clear correlation between the amount employees work and their productivity levels. According to a study by Stanford University, overworked employees are less productive than employees working an average week. This suggests that a balanced ratio of work-to-rest increases productivity.
This rang true for New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian, which trialled a four-day work week. 78% of employees found they could more effectively balance their work and home life with this working pattern.
Adopting a four-day working week can reduce costs for everyone. The most obvious saving is running costs. While many office-based workers may not see a difference here as they have adopted hybrid remote working thanks to the pandemic, there are plenty of other industries which require working on location and which will reap the benefits of reduced transport costs. Plus, this is a win for the environment too.
In addition, there are childcare savings. According to a gender pay gap report, two million people are not in employment due to childcare responsibilities. A four-day work week may alleviate some of the financial strain on parents and enable many more to enter employment.
Mental health charity Mind reports that one in six people experience a common mental health problem in any given week in England and one in five say that they have called in sick to avoid work.
With a better work-life balance, it's unsurprising that employees are less likely to experience work-related stress or take sick leave, as a three-day weekend allows for more time to recharge and recover.
Having a longer weekend enables employees to spend more time doing the things they love, which naturally leads to an improvement in wellbeing. In short, employees are more fulfilled and happier.
As a result, it's unsurprising that 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain staff with a four-day working week.
What are the cons of a four-day work week?
Here are some of the reported disadvantages and challenges of a four-day work week:
While a four-day work week may be beneficial for staff, clients will witness a reduction in cover, which can disrupt customer satisfaction levels. In some industries and workplaces, there may be a need to have teams available for clients that may limit the reality of a four-day working week. The same can be said for covering annual leave and other absences.
Balancing shift patterns and scheduling
With reduced working days, there may be increased issues with planning meetings, particularly with impromptu invites. This may in turn bring certain tasks or projects to a grinding halt if a workaround or risk management initiative hasn't been established. What's more, if a four-day work week involves a switch in routine - for example, Friday off one week and Monday the next - shift patterns may be difficult to adapt to and handle.
The reduction in time to complete tasks may instil a rising sense of panic for the people that are constantly busy and often reliant on working overtime. While a four-day work week can improve productivity, it might not work that way in reality as staff are being asked to meet the same targets in less time. This is especially true iif the root cause for the busy-ness isn't addressed.
The UK's four-day working week pilot could be revolutionary, as it's set to uncover findings that will help the nation establish a shortened work week that can reasonably become part of our reality. If you're looking to work for a company that has flexible working initiatives or a four-day work week, submit your CV for a free review to see if your requirements are clear.
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