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The four-day week mystique

Tuesday 9th June

The four-day week mystique

Taking the plunge.

That’s the feeling often bursting out from stories of businesses (or whole countries) switching to a four-day week. There’s always an element of uncertainty in such a radical change.

This trepidation is understandable, and actually seems to reflect the polarity of the discussion on the fabled four-day week. Depending on whose account you read, it heralds the economic end of days or the path to workers’ utopia.

The reality, as is often the case, depends entirely on your circumstances. We know you probably weren’t looking for fence-sitting here, but the fact remains that only you can gauge the impact (positive or otherwise) of a four-day week on your business.

Four or five? A deep dive

That said, let’s try to navigate our way through those muddy work-week waters. We’ve signposted three key factors to consider when mulling the switch from five to four:

  • Employee wellbeing
  • Business model
  • Team composition
Employee wellbeing

57% of all sick days result from work-related stress or depression. A shorter working week has the potential to alleviate this – something 63% of workers agree with. Clearly an extra day for the washing, a jog, personal projects or simply some rest is a welcome idea for most.

But it’s easy to see why 37% may disagree. Those with weekly or monthly KPIs will have less time to hit them, resulting in lost bonuses or even lost jobs. That’s not to mention contractors or those tied to ‘zero hour’ arrangements, whose payment is directly linked to time worked.

With the issue of money so often intrinsically linked to mental health, it’s clear that a four-day week might actually weigh on wellbeing in multiple scenarios.

Business model

Five doesn’t easily go into four. If you plan on keeping your business open for five days, but want your employees to work for four, expect new shift gaps to open up.

You’ll need to decide whether any benefit outweighs the added pressure to your business’s critical functions. Do you, for example, rely on quick responses to customer queries? Will a four-day week make this easier to fulfil?

Bigger firms can more easily contend with shift gaps by hiring additional full- or part-time staff. If you’re a minnow chasing your industry’s whales, you’ll need to make sure you’re not prioritising the latest craze over your business’s wellbeing.

Team composition

We’ve all seen that teams within companies can often operate in their own worlds. Some enjoy flexibility, but many others work toward more rigid outputs.

The latter can lead to some workers being ‘always on’ – support staff, for example. For every employee enjoying their extra day off, there could well be someone else who can’t.

It might be that some companies need to consider whether the blanket imposition of a four-day week will actually benefit everyone, or simply those with enough flexibility to take advantage.

Flexibility for all

So, it’s clear that your approach to a shorter working week will define its success in your business. Blanket application of a radical solution could, for some, do more harm than good. What’s needed is flexibility!

Initiatives that improve employees’ flexibility and autonomy make for a good baby step before the giant leap into the world of four-day working. Remember: the discussion of a four-day week is driven by the desire for better employee experiences first-and-foremost.

Keeping this at the heart of your decisions will ensure that the work-week tail never wags the dog.

Keen to discover more about the future of work and HR? Take a peek at some of our other posts here.

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