Who’s up for a 4-Day Working Week?

Posted in : HR Updates on 23 July 2019
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

The Flexible Working Bill working its way through the legislative process at the moment will require employers to make all job roles flexible by default.  In this month’s article Olga Pollock considers the pro’s and con’s of working a 4 day week.  

I was interested to read in Legal Island’s Weekly Review of  Employment Law Developments 19/7/2019, that employers could be forced to make flexible working mandatory under the new flexible working bill.  This would require employers to establish a set of flexible working arrangements available for new and existing employees to choose from, unless there is a legitimate business reason for employers being unable to do so.

To me, as I'm sure many reading this, comes as welcome news given that the traditional 9-5, five-day working week seems rather antiquated in today's society. According to new research from Henley Business School there are some exemplary employers who are already ahead of the curve having implemented a four-day working week with reports of increased productivity and improved physical and mental wellbeing.  The research carried out on 505 UK business leaders, said that part of the improved productivity could be linked to the reduction in staff sickness.

It is unfortunate that the UK are infamous for working the longest hours in the EU but are on average, less productive. Almost one in three workers who are already stressed, think that a four-day working week would relieve stress, according to The Independent.  So, with low levels of productivity and high levels of stress what's stopping employers from switching to a four-day working week in favour of increased productivity and improved mental wellbeing?

While the research so far paints a positive picture, I imagine a lot, if not most NI employers are currently far off from considering this move.  Cultures here tend to be more traditional with senior management wary of change and any potential negative ramifications on output and service delivery. Advocates of the shorter working week would argue that employees work smarter and are more focused within a shorter working week, however it is difficult to envisage how employers would maintain service delivery throughout Monday to Friday with less staff available to do so.  Also, I expect in sectors such as retail such a move would present many challenges, not to mention front line services such as policing and in the NHS, where it would be hard to see how there wouldn't be an impact on public service.

There is also the argument that having less time to do the same work may exacerbate stress levels so perhaps the focus should be on supporting employees to manage workloads effectively, build resilience and improve performance.  Of course, employers will always have a duty of care towards staff in terms of ensuring that workloads are not excessive in the first instance and avoid piling more demands on employees without assessing how they are coping.  Effective line management is key here ensuring communication with team members happens regularly.

So, two measures are necessary then; tools to manage stress and build resilience along with promoting a supportive culture.

Perhaps the answer isn't simply to shorten the working week. We need to be creating healthy workplaces in the first instance. Once that is in place then a four-day working week might just be the icing on the cake!

Useful reading:

Parliament to consider making all job roles flexible by default 

Businesses turning to four-day working week could save billions, says research 

Britons do work the longest hours but a four-day week is not the answer – this is what we should do instead 

Four-day week: trial finds lower stress and increased productivity 

This article is correct at 23/07/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email oppollock@firmusenergy.co.uk

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