The Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Working Week

Have you heard the latest workplace buzz? Gather round the water cooler, the rumours are true — a 4 day work week may soon be a reality. TUC (Trade Union Congress) is calling on the government to help people work fewer hours while getting paid the same.

Now, you’re probably wondering how such a favourable situation is even possible. Why would business owners allow their employees to work only 4 days a week? Won’t the company suffer as a result? Well, you can thank your new robot coworkers. As we explored in one of our other recent blog articles, technological developments could make it possible for employees to accomplish the same amount of work in less time and still ensure customers are supported.

AI technology will significantly disrupt every aspect of every industry in every country including how and when we work. Within the near future, we’re likely to see an increase in remote and more flexible work schedules like the 4 day work week. In fact, TUC thinks that a 4 day work week could become a reality within this century if businesses are forced to share the benefits of new technology with their employees.

Some companies, like Perpetual Guardian from New Zealand, are already realising the benefits of a 4 day work. Not only does a 4 day work week increase employee satisfaction, company commitment and teamwork, but it also decreases stress levels. Even better, reducing employees’ work schedules to a 4 day work week doesn’t harm their productivity or company output.

Join us as we take a closer look at some of the benefits and disadvantages associated with a 4 day work week.

What is a 4 Day Work Week?

You may already know someone that works compressed hours and as such works full-time over 35 hours over 4 days. A four day work week isn’t a compressed work schedule, but rather reduced hours. So, the employee would work around 28 hours over four days and have a three-day weekend.

A 4 day work week may seem like a radical idea, but we’ve gradually reduced the number of hours worked within a typical work week since the late 19th century. In 1890, the United States government estimated that a full-time employee within a manufacturing plant worked an average of 100 hours a week. By the mid-20th century, manufacturing employees only worked 40 hours a week. Reducing our current work week to 28 hours isn’t nearly as radical.

What are the Benefits of a 4 Day Work Week?

A 4 day work week is a relatively new concept, brought about largely due to recent advancements in technology. However, some companies are already trialling the idea with promising results for both employees and employers.

Increased Productivity

An in-depth examination of the relationship and productivity conducted by Sanford University revealed a clear correlation between the two factors. Overworked employees are actually less productive than employees working an average or normal working week.

New Zealand based company, Perpetual Guardian, conducted a trial study of a 4 day work week. Not only did employees maintain the same productivity level, but they also showed improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance and company loyalty. Employees also experienced less stress with a decrease of 45% to 38%.

The results from this study are relatively unsurprising given that some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, on average work around 27 hours a week — the same hours proposed for a UK 4 day work week. On the other hand, Japan, a nation notoriously known for overworked employees, ranks as the 20th out of 35 countries for productivity.

An Equal Workplace

Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the Government Equalities Office shows that roughly two million British people are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women. A 4 day work week would promote an equal workplace as employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better juggle care and work commitments.

Exploring solutions for the gender pay gap and workforce inclusivity, the proposal for a 4-day work week gains significance in the context of research from the Government Equalities Office.

The study highlights that approximately two million individuals in the UK are currently not employed due to childcare responsibilities, with a substantial 89% being women.

Advocating for a 4-day work week emerges as a potential catalyst for fostering workplace equality, as it offers employees the flexibility to prioritize family commitments alongside professional responsibilities.

This shift in work structures aligns with the broader goal of creating an inclusive digital workplace that accommodates diverse needs and empowers individuals, particularly women, to actively participate in both career and family life.

Better Employee Engagement

A 4 day week can lead to happier and more committed employees. Employees are less likely to be stressed or take sick leave as they have plenty of time to rest and recover. As a result, they return to work feeling ready to take on new challenges.

From 2015 to 2017, Sweden conducted a trial study into a shorter work week. Nurses at a care home worked only 6 hours for five days a week. Results were largely positive with nurses logging less sick hours, reporting better health and mental wellbeing and greater engagement as they arranged 85% more activities for patients in their care.

A Smaller Carbon Footprint

Countries with shorter working hours typically have a smaller carbon footprint so reducing our work week from 5 to 4 days could have an environmental benefit too. Shortening our working week means that employees don’t need to commute as much and large office buildings are only in use four days a week.

A trial conducted by the US state of Utah for government employees showed a significant ecological impact from reducing the average work week from five to four days using a compressed work schedule. During the first ten months, the project saved over US$1.8m (£1.36m) in energy costs and a reduction of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from closing the large office building on Fridays. If employees’ commutes are also included, Utah estimated that it could save 12,000 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of removing 2,300 cars off the road for one year, simply by working one day less a week!

Are There Any Disadvantages to a 4 Day Work Week?

While there are certainly many benefits to a 4 day work week, there are also a few disadvantages. Some of the previously discussed studies, like the one involving Swedish nurses, ultimately determined that the project wasn’t cost effective. Implementing a four-day work-week can be difficult as it requires the right support, technology and workplace culture. Unavoidably, new changes will encounter some challenges and disadvantages.

Customer Satisfaction

The Utah study, which saw some fantastic environmental results as well as employee and employer benefits, actually closed due to poor customer satisfaction. Customers complained that they were unable to access government services with offices closed on a Friday.

Using technology, like chatbots and AI-powered websites, could solve issues related to customer satisfaction as it would allow customers another avenue of support rather than relying on office-based staff members.

Wrong Approach

Many confused the concept of a 4 day work week with compressed hours. Employees who are expected to still work 35 hours, but across 4 days will actually show decreased levels of productivity and it can also impact employees’ engagement, work-life balance and overall happiness. To achieve the desired effects a 4 day work week should consist of standard 7 hour work days.

Final Thoughts: Should You Adopt the 4 Day Work Week?

While we’re not quite at this point yet, there may soon come a day where technology, particularly AI, exceeds the capabilities of human employees. We’ll then need to make some crucial decisions regarding the future of work and how best protect and promote human employees’ well-being. A 4 day work week is one viable option as technology would make it possible for business to continue as usual while humans can still have meaningful careers with a better work/life balance.

TUC in calling for a 4 day work week is attempting to establish the groundwork for this transition and ensure that employees, not just employers, reap the benefits of this new technology. Something that we here at Change Recruitment can certainly support.

Recommended Further Reading

How Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution Impact the Future of Work?

Join us as we take an in-depth look at some of the expected changes arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our article explores the impacts of AI in the workforce and the industries most vulnerable to automation.

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