Four Day Working Week

Following on from Susan Palmer's previous blog “The Four Day Working Week: Does it work?”,  published in 2018, I’ve taken a look at how the perspective on the four-day working week has changed over the past years.    

This is particularly interesting following the pandemic, in which the global perspective on work; remote/hybrid working, valuing time off and quality of life has been emphasised.    

So, what is the four-day working week?   

The core idea of the four-day working week is not to maintain the 35-hour week in four days, but instead to retain pay whilst reducing the weekly hours worked. This will follow the 100:80:100 model: 100% pay, 80% time with the aim of creating 100% productivity.    

The five-day week was introduced during the industrial era, in which workers would go to the factory, complete a day of work and leave. Five days a week, with eight-hour shifts mirroring the daily hours of sunlight. However, nowadays, the proposal is that five-day shift working has become ill-suited in a time of advanced technology and blended working.    

The idea of shortening the working week to four days is that productivity and employee satisfaction will increase due to longer weekly time off, and more time to focus on personal life.  And so, during working hours, there will be fewer distractions. Additionally, in Gethin Nadin’s book “A World of Good” he states that nearly ¾ of UK citizens agree that shorter working weeks would improve national happiness.    

Susan mentioned the new scheme brought in by Perpetual Guardian in 2018 to trial the four-day working week. Monitored by academics at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology, the trial resulted in engagement levels increased by over 30% and work stimulation by 27%. The success of this led to the founder of the company fully implementing the four-day week permanently from November 2018.    

Prior to this, Iceland tried a similar large-scale trial in 2015 and 2017 to shorten working weeks. The success of maintaining or exceeding productivity levels, coupled with the increase in wellbeing, led to Icelandic trade unions reducing hours permanently. By 2021, roughly 86% of the Icelandic population now currently have, or have the option to, work fewer hours. Thus, displaying the sustainability of reduced hours as a long-term, modern approach to the working week, including during the pandemic.   

Closer to home, 4 Day Week Global is a not-for-profit community established following the triumph of Perpetual Guardian. 4 Day Week Global started a six-month long trial in the UK in June 2022 involving more than 70 UK companies.  This is running alongside similar trials in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, and the United States.  

4 Day Week Global's chief executive stated that the “new frontier for the competition is quality of life”.   

The aim of the four-day week is to improve:   

  • Productivity (a measure based on results, not on hours worked)   
  • Wellbeing (work-life balance, a greater focus on mental and physical health and reduces sick leave, stress, and creates happier employees, reducing the turnover rate) 
  • Engagement (more energised efficient workforce)
  • Recruitment (creating a competitive edge)
  • Sustainability (reduce the carbon footprint from travelling and energy use) 
  • Gender equality (enable greater distribution of childcare responsibilities between both parents and reducing barriers faced by women to reach more senior positions)  
  • Innovation (adapt early, due to the future insight of changing work due to the technology revolution and increased AI)   

This all sounds amazing, right?

So why isn’t everyone implementing the Four-day week?  

Firstly, the type of sector or role plays a massive part in the success of the four-day week.  It works brilliantly for jobs where performance focuses on deliverables and output, but not so well in roles that require hours to be worked, such as a security guard.   

The Wellcome Trust investigated adopting the four-day week but found it would not be possible for all departments and thus decided not to adopt it.  Therefore, preventing the creation of a two-tier society within their workforce.  

Secondly, despite the longer weekends created, the 4 Day Working Week trial still defines a set working time relying on the principles of performance based on rigid hours worked instead of performance based on output.   

Instead, looking towards both blended and flexible working, and focusing on the deliverables without controlling the hours and times of day worked, would allow people to have control over their working pattern, creating the conditions for optimal productivity.  

Thirdly, there is a worry that blended and flexible working decreases the ability to fully “switch off”, merging the work-life balance into a constant checking of emails.  There are also logistical issues with collaborative projects and teams.

However, using the ideology of reduced hours, paired with blended flexible working, allows for work schedules to work with life instead of restricting it.   In addition to productivity, allowing a flexible, deliverable-based business model, would further the ability for gender equality, enabling caregivers to be greater able to work around care whilst furthering their careers.  

Overall, the greater focus on work-life balance, and the ideology of greater productivity based upon ensuring sufficient free time to prevent distractions whilst working, holds true and is a step in the right direction.   

Many companies are now understanding the importance of time off as an asset for ensuring productivity and reducing employee burnout and are viewing this scheme as the new future of work.  I would argue that by implementing a four-day working week and introducing greater flexibility in working arrangements, the world of work will be revolutionised. 

Of the two, I predict that agile working will be a greater priority for companies and will change the way we work forever, allowing both work and life to work together to ensure optimum productivity.   


Do get in touch if you’d like help with your pay and reward strategy.

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Photo: "That's the backyard branch and wood art piece that David North built with all his social distancing-created free time." by Ronald Douglas Frazier is licensed under CC BY 2.0.