Last year, Finito World published an opinion piece urging companies to trial the controversial four-day working week. Now, 30 companies in the UK have launched a pilot programme testing out the new way of working and evaluating its effects on productivity and employee happiness.
Research conducted by Instant Offices has shown a 110% increase in Google searches related to the four-day work week since the pilot programme launched, which suggests an interest far beyond the companies taking part in the trial. The research has also found that 51% of UK workers would prefer the shorter but more intense period of work which would allow for three-day weekends.
Mainland European countries are ahead in the race towards the widespread acceptance of the four-day week, with a number of countries trialling reduced hours. Germany now has a national average of 26 hours worked per week, with the Netherlands and Norway close behind working around 27 hours per week.
It is important to remember that a four-day work week does not mean a reduction in overall hours worked – rather the existing hours are redistributed throughout the shorter period. This has the benefits of cutting down on commute time, encouraging more focused work, and allowing for a better work-life balance. However, it also comes with fears of burn out and a more stressful environment.
In order to allow for the possible challenges that come with the new schedule, Instant Offices suggests a variety of measures. By reallocating hours gradually rather than cutting a full day immediately, companies will be able to see the effects of the change slowly without risking a shock to employees and a loss of productivity.
Automation may also be key, as when employees are free from the more menial tasks in work, they are free to spend the extra time working on problems which require human brainpower. Additionally, rotating schedules can reduce the risk of any single employee working beyond their capacity leading to burn out.
Perhaps most importantly, any change to the work schedule must come with ample opportunity for employee feedback and flexibility. As we have explored before, every employee works differently, and allowing for these differences is crucial in maintaining a happy, effective workforce.
The four-day work week is designed to give employees more free time and foster a good work-life balance, not to compress the stress of a normal work week into four unbearable days. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way that many of us think about work, and that is generally a good thing – but it is important to avoid making changes overnight.
Many workers are looking for a change, and a four-day work week may well be a good solution. As these pilot programmes continue, we will be able to fully see the benefits and drawbacks of this new work schedule. Given flexibility, gradual change, and clear expectations, it seems that much of the UK workforce is ready to take on a new way of working. It won’t come overnight, but the four-day work week might be the next in a long line of new normals.