It’s no wonder I started writing this post on a Monday morning. The weekend always seems to go far too quickly. You clock off on Friday afternoon and before you know it, you’re right back at your desk again!
The five-day work week has been the norm for decades. But will that always be the case? Is there an alternative and – most importantly – could it actually work for your business?
What is it?
The four-day work week is exactly what it sounds like – instead of working for five days and having two days off, you work for only four days and have three days off. But there are a number of ways it can work in practice.
The first is simply a reduction in weekly hours worked. So instead of working for 35 or 40 hours a week over five days, you’ll work 28 or 32 hours a week over four days.
The second works by compressing more hours into fewer days. For example, the “four-10” week is consists of four days lasting 10 hours.
What’s the idea behind it?
It hasn’t just been dreamt up by people who fancy an extra day off. A number of studies (including this one from the London School of Economics) have claimed that the five-day work week is inefficient and unnecessary. The same studies claim that workers will be more productive if they’re forced to work fewer hours each week.
In 2018, the Trades Union Congress called for the UK to adopt a four-day work week. Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “I believe that in this century we can win a four-day work week, with decent pay for everyone.”
Who’s actually tried it?
Four-day weeks have been tried around the world, in varying forms and with different results:
State government employees started working 10-hour days from Monday to Thursday. The change was made with hopes it’d save operating costs like electricity and heat. It ended in 2011, though, when the state legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a five-day work week.
Schools in Hawaii were forced to move to four-day weeks for most of the academic year after the education budget was slashed by 14%.
Public officials in Gambia were given Fridays off by president Yahya Jammeh so they had more time for prayer and agriculture. It lasted until 2017 when Jammeh’s successor, president Adama Barrow, made Friday a half-day.
An IT company made Mondays a day-off, reducing the working hours by 20%. Apparently, the workers became more productive on Fridays, and have 50% more free time than before.
New Zealand, 2018
A trust company called Perpetual Guardian began trialling a four-day week in March 2018. Instead of increasing the hours to make up for the missing day, the staff worked fewer hours each week with full pay. According to the results of the trial, it was a success – with a 20% increase in productivity and a 30% increase in customer engagement. The company’s revenue remained stable during the period and costs went down! (In fact, you can read the white paper Perpetual Guardian made about their trial here.)
A PR company based in Gloucestershire switched to a four-day week in September 2018. Their staff now work Monday to Thursday with the same pay as before. But their holiday allowance has been reduced by 20% and lunch breaks are down to 45 minutes from an hour.
Could it work for your small business?
The evidence is out there that four-day weeks can work in certain situations. But whether or not they’re right for your business is another matter. You’ll have to think carefully about how the change will affect your staff, your customers and – most importantly – your bottom line.
If you’re tempted to find out what impact it could have on your business, consider running a trial. Before you start, work out how you’ll measure its success or failure. What key metrics are important to you? They might be revenue, customer satisfaction, staff morale and engagement or all of the above.