Following smaller trials in the US and Canada, it was time for the UK to have a crack at the four-day work week.
61 UK companies ranging from fast-food restaurants to banks to marketing agencies gave their 2,900 workers a reduced work week from June 2022 to November 2022 based on the “100-80-100” model – 100% of the pay, for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to delivering 100% of the output.
The idea of working less than the conventional 40 hours per week is certainly not new, in fact it’s been discussed for decades.
The obstacle has always been less about functionality or the integrity of any one employee and more the traditional and entrenched management attitudes.
Following the pandemic, the majority of employers by necessity have been broadly more accepting of less conventional working arrangements such as remote and hybrid work. We’ve been creating interiors to suit.
The primary concern now has become staff retention, as some experienced employees simply no longer wish to commute five days a week.
Clearly there has been a noticeable shift in where and why decisions are being made. Staff, particularly qualified and experienced staff, have been greatly empowered with choice and any argument that productivity would be impacted by non-attendance, has largely been rendered obsolete.
This report issued by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the UK’s 4 Day Week Campaign and think-tank, Autonomy, sheds light on both business and employee outcomes.
The report shows 92% of organisations are continuing with a 4-day week. Of the five companies who are not, two have opted to extend their trials and three are pausing for the moment.
Companies rated their overall experience of the trial an 8.3/10 and business performance and productivity both scored an average of 7.5/10 on two separate scales.
Revenue rose by 1.4% on average over the trial (weighted by company size across respondent organisations) and the number of staff leaving fell by 57% over the trial period.
Employees were also receptive to their new working week.
90% of employees said they want to continue on a 4-day week, with no one saying they definitely don’t want to continue and 55% reported an increase in their ability at work.
Employee health and wellbeing also benefitted. 71% of employees had reduced levels of burnout by the end of the trial, 39% were less stressed and 43% felt an improvement in mental health.
Although results are largely positive, widespread adoption faces several obstacles.
Most companies that have experimented with a four-day week, in the UK and in other pilot countries, are relatively small employers, with large companies categorised in the study as 11 or more employees.
The report also details that some workers have struggled to get their usual work done in the reduced hours available. Most employees didn’t work more intensively, researchers say, rather they and their bosses attempted to make workdays more efficient with hacks such as cutting back on meetings, or leaving meetings in progress if their attendance was no longer necessary.
Additional management systems were also required, with some employers requiring that each employee had a partner to cover the day they were off.
With larger companies absent in the trial, it’s difficult to conclude what the strains on business continuity might be, especially when accounting for significantly larger volumes of employees in any one location or campus.
It’s hard to predict what the exact knock-on effect the widespread adoption of the four-day week would have on the commercial real estate market in the UK, however, additional benefits such as the potential to reduce expenditure on office space through rightsizing or downsizing is likely to be tempting for many UK employers as they shed unnecessary floor space by moving or subletting. We’re also likely to see continued consistent demand for Grade A office space that has surged since the pandemic. In March of 2021, the UK government introduced the ‘Permitted Development Right’ which now allows for any Class E buildings; that is Commercial, Business and Service Use, to be converted for Class C3 (Residential) as demand for older office space gives over to a chronic shortage of residential property.