Bath Business Blog: Peter Woodhouse, head of business and social enterprise, Stone King. Should more employers be considering a four-day work week?
The four-day work week is a hot topic right now. There has been much in the press, not least the six-month pilot that is currently under way with 70 UK companies trialling a four-day week.
The benefits to employer and employees are fairly obvious, working one day fewer allows for a better work-life balance and burnout prevention.
Companies are also sensing post-pandemic that, in terms of recruitment and retention, ‘the new frontier for competition is quality of life’, according to the press release.
The trial, similar to one at Atom Bank last November, involves organisations cutting a day’s work while still paying 100% of salaries in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity – or what 4 Day Week Global describes as the (trademarked) 100:80:100 model.
The trial involves a huge range of sectors – from the local chippy to large corporates, housing firms, hospitality, charities and many more.
But what implications does this have from an employment law perspective?
The four-day working week is not without its complications. Perhaps the most obvious one would be the likely expectation that employees work harder on the four days they are at work.
Many employees will think they work pretty hard anyway, so could this actually exacerbate existing concerns about quality of life rather than easing them?
Equally, how productivity is measured can vary significantly from sector to sector but would need to be clearly set out for this model to work, including facilitating a fair process for any potential disciplinary action down the line.
Then there are challenges around how to deal with part-time workers. What of those already working (and being paid for) four days, do they receive a pay rise?
Historically, working four days pro rata (as opposed to two or three) has often been seen as a raw deal, as the temptation is to do (and perhaps be expected to do) five days for four days’ pay. Could the new system run into similar issues?
If there is a choice of days, there may be challenges around agreeing these days among teams, and such details have the potential to escalate. For example, will everyone want Friday off?
Nonetheless, this growing trend is certainly a positive movement in a post-Covid world in which the way we work has changed forever.
Employers should be using the opportunity to adapt any changes originally forced by the pandemic into voluntary and improved competitive advantages — what I would call ‘Covid Keepers’ – and would be prudent to at least consider how and whether a four-day working week could work for them, before their competitors steal a march.
In the above trial there is such a breadth of organisations involved, that the claim that ‘a four-day week doesn’t work for our industry’ is unlikely to hold much weight.
The trial has also enlisted researchers who will work with each participating organisation to measure the impact on productivity in the business and worker wellbeing, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.
I’m sure it will be of great interest to many to find out the results in months to come.
By Robert Buckland