A Four-Day Working Week: Is It Time For A New Approach To Employment?

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A Four-Day Working Week: Is It Time For A New Approach To Employment?

Key Contact: Juliette Franklin

Author: Sophie Azzopardi

In January 2022, four companies joined a new campaign to trial a four-day working week. By its launch date in June 2022, seventy companies had registered to participate in the trial. This increase reflects a larger trend that has seen companies such as Unilever and Morrisons welcoming a three-day weekend for their staff.

The six-month trial will see over three thousand employees working for their full pay, across four days. This will be done on the basis that each employee commits to maintaining their full productivity. Leading academics at Oxford, Cambridge, and Boston College will review the trials’ effects on employees and companies, alongside the environment. Their findings could heighten calls for a mandatory four-day working week; changing the world of employment as we know it.    

What are the benefits for a business?

An initial benefit is likely to be found in staff retention and the recruitment of talent. A report titled ‘A Future Fit for Wales: The roadmap to a shorter working week’, found that sixty-two percent of those asked would choose to work a four-day week or less. Given this public demand, businesses offering a four-day week will attract keen applicants and create a happier working environment, where employees feel a work-life balance is embraced.

Secondly, companies are likely to see a healthier workforce. A study by the World Health Organisation in 2021 concluded that working ten to fifteen hours less per week can decrease the risk of a stroke by thirty-five percent. In practice, these findings signal the potential for a reduction in sick leave and for greater productivity as a result of employees being healthier.

Thirdly, it would be a missed opportunity not to touch upon wider productivity gains that could be made. In 2019, Microsoft’s Japanese branch trialled a four-day week. They saw productivity increase by forty percent. This finding is no anomaly. The Guardian reports local businesses across the United Kingdom have seen greater productivity with a shorter working week. It provides explanations for this increase including employees feeling more focused and less stressed, enabling a more organised approach to work. Whilst these levels have been shown to decrease slightly with time, effective implementation could be the key to sustenance.

Before considering how we can support you and your business in implementing and maintaining any changes, a final benefit should be addressed. The University of Massachusetts has found an employee’s carbon footprint reduces by almost fifteen percent when they spend ten percent less time working. With the growing importance of environmental, social, and corporate governance initiatives, businesses adopting a four-day working week could see gains in publicity, trade, and collaborations.

The impacts on Employment law

Given that this will be the first major change to the working week for a hundred years, employment law will also be required to adapt and develop at an unprecedented pace. From official working hours to holiday entitlements, maternity leave to tax advice, a change in the working week is likely to require vast amendments to present and future employees’ contracts. Ensuring these changes are aligned with any statutory regulations will place an increased emphasis on the need to ensure that when a business makes changes, it does so in a compliant way.  This could be all the more complex when negotiating amendments with employees hired on part-time contracts or those on zero-hour contracts. Businesses will inevitably require support to restructure around a shorter week, and in navigating and resolving the potential for dispute as changes are implemented and sustained.

Whilst mandatory performance may not be imminent, these changes are happening at an accelerated pace. This year, for example, the Belgian government announced employees can request to work the same number of hours but in a four-day week. Alongside these developments, the current trial may heighten evidence surrounding the benefits noted above. If this is the case, businesses could see even greater demand amongst employees and stakeholders to innovate their approach to work; changing what we know as the ‘working week’.

If you would like further advise on the topics covered, please contact the Acuity Employment team.

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