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The big question - the four-day week

November 7, 2022

The four-day week has been subject to much discussion here at the offices of Employee Feedback.  Through the efforts of the four-day week campaign debates about the benefits and challenges are a hot topic in HR teams and at water coolers all around the country.  The benefits, clearly articulated by the campaign, could be felt not only by employers and employees but also by the environment and wider society.  

MP Peter Dowd took the issue to Parliament on October 18th and argued ‘It is time for change. The arguments made against the four-day week today are exactly the same arguments that were made against the five-day week 100 years ago’.  

The opposition took the opportunity to rehearse many of these long-standing arguments again, but is it time for change? Post pandemic our expectations have changed. Do employers need legislative change to keep up? 

As a working mother of two, I am a long-time convert to four-day week having chosen to return to working four days after my first baby but would certainly have welcomed maintaining a full-time salary.  However, views are mixed.  One friend, in recruitment saw it as a fashionable idea to try and attract the best talent, but the reality is often less than positive if the business just isn’t ready. That is supported by the Welcome Trust consultation on whether to experiment with the four-day week in early 2019 which declared it too ‘operationally complex to implement’.

What does the rest of the world think?

Good question: this debate is not confined to these shores.  Around the world there have been trials, including New Zealand, Iceland and Spain.   In February, a law was passed in Belgium giving all employees the right to work a four-day week, albeit without a reduction in hours, and next year Ireland will also run a 6-month pilot on the four-day week.

Today, some of the most productive countries in the world, like Norway and Denmark, work an average 27-hour week.

The most cited trial was carried out by Microsoft in Japan, a country known for its intense work culture. In 2019 a four-day week trial took place throughout August for 2,300 staff.  The results were impressive; a 40% rise in productivity, happier staff and a reduction in electricity and printing, demonstrating the positive economic, human and environmental benefits.  Despite this, we have been unable to discover how this was taken further by Microsoft. Another interesting idea fallen to the pandemic perhaps.

Is this a recent debate?

We can thank Henry J Ford for the weekend that we are all familiar with today that gives us a five-day week, implementing it 6 years before the US government in 1926. As well as realising the positive impact on productivity, he also observed that it gave workers more time to spend their hard-earned money and keep the economy flowing.

Here in the UK, Mr John Boot, of Boots fame, first implemented a 2-day weekend for his staff in the early thirties, in part recognising it reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and that his staff came into work on Monday fresher and more invigorated after a two-day break.

Watch this space

It seems the case for the four-day week is strong, but the jury is still out.   We will continue the conversation with our clients and networks.  One final observation from a seasoned London HR Director: “This is an extraordinarily competitive recruitment market.  We are all looking to make ourselves as attractive as possible to new recruits and, of course, keep our valued staff.  This is definitely on the table for us, but we recognise that to make it work we need to make sure it can fit our culture and that we have the right support and in place supported by the right technology”.

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