The four day work week – a cost cutting exercise, a step towards real inclusive workplaces, or just a gimmick to attract new talent? Not all companies are contemplating the shift to a shorter work week for the same reasons, but more and more are considering it.

The noble idea behind the reduced working week is that by having your people work one less day a week, they will have more time for their hobbies, their family, or for more rest.  In turn you will increase morale, company loyalty and employee engagement – but let’s be clear, not all four day work weeks are created equal.  Some companies are offering ‘condensed’ weeks, asking employees to split the same amount of hours across fewer days.  Others are offering reduced working hours, but are reducing pay packets to match.

The ideal situation, and the one that we support is a flexible solution, treating people like adults and allowing them to fit work around their lives.  Rather than the UK media’s usual perception of creating a ‘3 day weekend’ with all employees taking Fridays off, think of it more as a 32 hour week.  Employees would be able to have 2 half days; or to work ‘school friendly’ hours five days a week; or even miss rush hour by starting later or finishing earlier each day.  This flexible approach to working allows for more refreshed, happier people and, studies have shown, an increase in productivity.  But how close is this to a reality?

Well, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the Scottish Government will create a £10 million fund “to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four-day working week”.  Other countries, including Spain have recently announced plans to pilot the four-day work week, although their backing extends to a more generous €50 million fund.   According to the SNP, this initial pilot in Scotland will help them to “consider a more general shift” across the whole country and to “identify additional employment opportunities and assess the economic impact of moving to a four-day week”.[1]   How this will manifest outside of a manifesto is yet to be seen, but it’s a very encouraging step forward.

The SNP’s original announcement came just before the last election, when Advice Direct Scotland urged all parties to consider the four day work week pledge, citing studies that it reduced absenteeism by 75%[2].  This may be true, but what other pros and cons have been discovered during real life tests of a reduced working week?

New Zealand based Perpetual Guardian[3] found that introducing a 4 day work week “increased employee satisfaction, company commitment and teamwork, but it also decreases stress levels”. They also found that it did not harm their productivity or company output.[4]  Sanford University carried out an in-depth examination of the relationship between hours worked and productivity[5] and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that overworked employees are less productive than employees who have an average working week.

The most encouraging data comes from the Government Equalities Office, which carried out research on the Gender Pay Gap[6].  It demonstrated that roughly two million British people are not currently in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women.  Flexible working hours have been proven to help provide a more equal workplace as employees are able to spend more time with their families and find balance between work and care commitments.  We truly believe that the positive impact that a national move to flexible working could have on the gender gap in our economy would be staggering – but poor implementation of flexible working could be equally detrimental.

Despite the positive studies it is not a foregone conclusion that a four day work week will have positive results for an organisation.  The largest study conducted on the subject to date was between 2015 and 2017 in Sweden, testing the impact of shorter working weeks for nurses[7].  The results of the study did demonstrate a reduction in sick leave, an improvement in mental wellbeing and engagement, and a massive upsurge in the quality of care for the patients the nurses involved looked after.  However, the study was ultimately cut short as it was deemed to not be cost-effective.  Sometimes the positives just do not outweigh the negatives, especially when it comes to public sector funded organisations.

So what can you do?  If we are to take for granted that within the next four years the Scottish Government will start supporting businesses who want to trial a four day work week, then those who are interested should start getting their houses in order now.  Considering the big picture questions of why, who and how is a good place to start, and if you need some professional advice or just an impartial expert to facilitate some in house discussions, get in touch.  We offer flexible working to all of our employees, from day one, and we are always happy to tell you all about what went wrong on our journey to getting it right!

Get in touch with Connect Three today for help implementing flexible working arrangements for your people.