The four-day working week is becoming a much talked about and desired change by the UK population since businesses across the globe began trialling the new structure and saw overwhelmingly positive results. Even tech-giant Microsoft gave the initiative a go in their Japan office and found that productivity increased by 40%. 
So, why are businesses reluctant to make the move? What are the true benefits that can come from a four-day working week?

The benefits of a four-day working week

Traditionally, Britain has had a culture of working long hours and staying late at work to showcase your dedication to the business. Talks of a positive work/life balance have only recently come to the fore, and people are beginning to realise the true benefits of properly balancing work with everyday life. The benefits of a shorter week may not be obvious to UK business owners who still hold the view that working hard equates to working longer hours. 
  • A four-day working week enables your people to boost their productivity. Due to the time restrictions, people have to spend less time on activities that aren’t business critical and more time driving positive outcomes through their work in the most effective way possible.
  • By giving employees an extra day of personal time, employers can also see a decrease in the amount of down time people spend sorting personal admin. Life admin can be distracting at the best of times, and needing to attend personal appointments to the doctor or dentist is easily done in personal time instead.
  • A happier and healthier workforce will mean better output and increased quality in their work. Giving employees more time to be healthy, both mentally and physically, will contribute towards having an engaged and productive workforce.

The importance of productivity, wellbeing, and employee satisfaction 

The link between productivity and wellbeing can often be overlooked. A progressive and high performing organisation will look at the whole person and not simply the work-based activities when looking at ways to drive productivity. The culture and tone that an organisation sets when it comes to hours and presenteeism will often drive engagement, retention, and productivity. People managers should be discussing performance and wellbeing in the same conversation to drive real success. 

The disadvantages of a shorter working week

The disadvantages of delivering a full-time role in a four-day week or shorter working day are apparent when individuals do not adapt their working practices to accommodate a shorter time in the workplace. It is not physically possible to deliver the same level of output in four days than you could in five unless you evolve the ways of working and your processes.
This is a mutual commitment that requires efficiency and organisational skills. The most challenging environments for condensed working are found when the demands of the customer base exceed the hours the individual can work. Therefore, agreeing on availability and delivery with the customer is equally as important.
Internal and external stakeholders can also be challenging to manage with one day out of the office. If you are in a role that requires you to be readily available and in the office, there can be an issue of perception and perceived ability to deliver at an equal or higher level than someone who is working long days and hours. In some businesses, this perception of an individual’s performance and commitment to go the extra mile can be career-limiting, which is unacceptable. 

Progression in the UK 

Even though a four-day working week is not expected or commonplace in the UK, progress has been made over the last two years. If a candidate wants a shorter working week, they need to be upfront and honest about what working pattern they are looking for and in the case of more senior appointments, how they will deliver.
 Most companies we work with at Michael Page are often very open to accommodating full-time roles in more agile working patterns, including a four-day week or condensed hours. These discussions need be open from the outset, with equal emphasis on both company and individual on how it will work and benefit both parties. 

Making the move to a four-day week

It is more practical for some businesses to move to a shorter working week than others. Service led sectors are a prime example of this. The evolving behaviour and expectation of customer service has meant that we expect instant response and gratification to our needs. We can adapt to different working patterns as the customer, the key is managing expectation and delivering a high level of service that allows us to accept the new way of working.
If where a business has the technology and offering available to shorten the week, then trialling the process before fully implementing it is a good way to test the waters. There are some businesses where it is more difficult than others to consider reduced working patterns, but any business leader needs to explore their options and listen to their staffs needs and wants before dismissing any proposal. Often it is a fixed mindset as opposed to a real operational or commercial necessity. Even trialling an eight-day working fortnight or agile hours could have huge benefits in the workforce, rather than the perhaps expected drawbacks.
Even though we are noticing some movement in flexibility and dynamic working in the UK, the move to a four-day working week looks to be far in the distance, unlike our European neighbours who are making such changes. For now, we will see a more progressive way of driving agile working practices to compete for talent. And who knows? In the future with the new generation of leaders a four-day working week could be next on the agenda.
For a confidential discussion on how we can help you to hire and retain the best talent with the right skills to fill your vacancy, get in touch with one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.
Tania Garstang
Associate Director, Michael Page Human Resources