How could a four-day working week impact your business?

Leeann Nash November 11th 2022 - 4 minute read

Back in June, the UK began the largest trial of a four-day work week in the world to date. Over 3,300 employees at 70 companies elected to work a day less, for full pay. They committed to keep up their usual productivity levels across the study.

This programme is being monitored by academics from Oxford and Cambridge universities and will run for 6 months. As it stands, 49% of the companies involved stated the reduced work week was a boon for productivity, with a further 46% stating it hasn’t impacted productivity.

86% of respondents stated it would be extremely likely or likely for them to consider the idea of retaining the four-day week after the initial pilot.

But how could a four-day working week impact your business? We have a look at a couple of businesses and how they got on.

How would the four-day structure effect employees?

The four-day work week allows workers to have a strong, healthier work/life balance. With the argument being that a happy worker is a more productive worker.

For instance, the extra day off can be used for rest, leisure or ‘life admin’. With the extra time allowed for an individual to explore their passions, or to simply spend more time with family and friends it leads to a happier individual overall.

The hedonic treadmill theory argues that this would not be the case in time, as the next pleasure would be pursued as human psychology is inclined to do. The ‘extra day off’ would naturally be seen as a great source of joy by some workers, but the elevated happiness level would soon return to how it was before this introduction.

Yet, the extra day gives workers time to relax, which can lead to an inherent boost in productivity. Findings from research by Andrew J Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgrio from the University of Warwick showed that happiness brings at least a 12% boost in productivity.

However, it could introduce a productivity issue. As the concept driving the four-day week isn’t that of condensing the usual 37.5 hours into four days, but offering four regular days of work, there is a day of productivity which could go unaccounted for.

Perhaps this will naturally come as a result of the increased happiness, but should the hedonic treadmill theory come into play, a business could see across the board dips in output. This would either need to be compensated for elsewhere with additional hiring, or simply longer workdays. One is more expensive; one undercuts the entire purpose of the plan.

A business would need to take great care over implementing the practice, a process which could prove costly, or even impossible. To avoid a return to prior happiness levels, the planning would need to tackle issues which are likely heretofore unseen within the business.

Wellcome Trust: the challenges of implementation

The UK research foundation, Wellcome Trust dropped plans to trial a four-day work week for its head office. The firm decided that, after canvassing staff, that it would be too operationally complex to implement.

The firm carried out a three-month study, in which they asked employees to consider how they would adapt to the four-day week. The study showed that too many contrasting methods emerged, and that they would likely not fit together without significant disruption.

The key bugbears were for back office and support staff, such as those in IT, finance and human resources, who indicated an increased workload versus areas of the business who could afford the flexibility. Because of this, it was deemed unfair to proceed. Similarly, employees raised concerns about the compression of five working days into four.

Thus, the four-day working week may not benefit every single business. It can be seen to be too unwieldy in a multi-faceted organisation, with headaches potentially not quite worthwhile for the business.

Pursuit Marketing: how four days a week can be a boon

On the other hand, Pursuit Marketing, a Glasgow based marketing firm, saw a sizeable 29.5% improvement in productivity in the two years since they began a four-day work week.

Furthermore, in a sector notorious for high turnover, Pursuit Marketing has only lost two employees since the scheme began.

In line with what the four-day week currently being trialled proposes, the business didn’t reduce pay or staff benefits, and restructured their working days to accommodate the reduced hours, rather than compress the working week.

However, the move to a four-day work week came after Pursuit Marketing embraced flexible working and can be seen as a logical extension of that. As this happened in 2016, it stands to reason that with the shift towards flexible working that was forced by the pandemic this approach could be more viable to some businesses.

Would a four-day week suit your business?

The benefits are clear, with increased productivity and employee happiness being substantial pros. But it’s not without fault; requiring serious planning and budgetary considerations to be implemented properly, which may prove too great for your business.

Flexibility is crucial too, with the success stories coming from businesses which have already embraced flexible working as a core tenant. With the recent upheaval from Covid, this may reflect a substantially larger portion of businesses than it used to.

But it may not be cheap, or even feasible. Implementation could be costly, or unworkable. It isn’t an approach that befits every business, as shown in the Wellcome Trust case study. But the benefits can be clear, as shown with Pursuit Marketing.

Written by
Leeann Nash

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