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Pros and cons of the 4-day week

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As companies begin to plan what their business model will look like on the return to ‘normal’ post-pandemic, the largest trend we are seeing spreading like wildfire is the implementation of remote working.

It is expected that 93 per cent of business leaders will be offering at least a hybrid working model to employees in the near-future. Only 22.5 per cent will expect their staff in the office more than they can be at home, with 24 per cent offering a 50 / 50 split. 15 per cent are proposing more time at home than the office and 31 per cent are leaving it completely up to employees to decide.

However, flexible working won’t just stop at remote working for some companies. With the past year proving the importance of maintaining a good work/life balance for the sake of mental and physical wellbeing, as well as workplace productivity and overall job satisfaction, some companies are going further and now offering a 4-day working week.

Spain has trailblazed the way for this new way of working, as it was announced earlier in the year that the whole country would be trialling a 4-day working week, in the hope of a happier, healthier workforce and a more efficient and lucrative economy.

While an idea that has certainly been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 4-day week isn’t as modern as we’re led to believe. America Vice President, Richard Nixon, stated in 1956 that he thought the 4-day working week was coming in the ‘not-too-distant future’.

How does a 4-day week work?

During a 4-day working week, instead of working the customary 40 hours per week employees cut this down to 32 hours while still remaining on 100 per cent of their salary. The theory behind this way of working being that extra time to rest and recuperate, socialise and enjoy doing hobbies will not only boost employees’ morale but allow them to feel energised and motivated for the working week ahead.

However, despite the potential positives behind this working model, a number of organisations are sceptical, believing it's all a little too good to be true. If you’re stuck on the fence about the 4-day working week, here are a few pros and cons to help you decide which path to take.

Improved wellbeing

Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world. The extreme office culture, which has seen individuals' clock in over 150 hours of overtime per month, led to the term ‘Karoshi’ being coined, also known as death by overwork. While the Japanese Government is working at breaking this tradition, the country’s poor work/life balance is still the main cause of a large number of deaths. From strokes to heart attacks, starvation and suicide, the problems are rife, even today.

While very few workers die of being overworked in the UK, mental health issues caused by workplace stress are prominent. According to Mind, 1 in 6 of us with suffer with a work-related mental illness at some point in our lives and a shocking 70 million days are lost due to mental health-related sickness absence. 

While the 4-day week isn’t a cure for mental ill-health, more time away from the stresses of work to enjoy time with friends and family or doing things we love can certainly alleviate any negative feelings and greatly improve wellbeing.

Increased productivity

The 4-day week isn’t just beneficial to employees, but to employers and business leaders too. When Microsoft in Japan trialled the 4-day week, productivity rose by 40 per cent with electricity bills falling by 23 per cent.

A little closer to home, 63 per cent of UK business leaders said their workforces were more engaged, 25 per cent reported higher levels of staff retention and 13 per cent said it created a more diverse team. Not only does the 4-day week seem to create a much happier team, but it also has a brilliantly positive effect on business’ bottom line – a win-win situation.

However, despite all of these fantastic positives, the 4-day week can come with pitfalls.

A 4-day week could cause issues with client retention

Just because your company has implemented a 4-day week doesn’t mean that everyone else will. For clients, not having access to a service or product 5 days a week can be a real issue and may cause you to lose vital business.

An additional hurdle then presents itself as to how companies can organise and schedule a 4-day week to ensure all 5 weekdays are covered to avoid losing out on business. The risk is that a rota system becomes disorganised and a lot more stressful than perhaps anticipated.

Inevitability of longer hours worked

For many employees, being able to squeeze 5 days’ worth of work into 4 can create a much more cumbersome workload. While the point of the 4-day week is to help employees reduce their hours, it is likely, especially during busier times, that employees will end up working 10 – 12 hours days in order to still have one day off.

Not only is this counterintuitive to the point of the 4-day week, but it puts employees at higher risk of suffering from burnout or stress-related illnesses.

The 4-day week certainly has a balance of pros and cons, both of which should be weighed up on a case-by-case basis dependant on your business. It won’t be for everyone, but it will be a fantastic option for some. 


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