What is the four-day working week and why is everyone talking about it?

4 day working weekA small number of businesses in the UK and beyond are moving towards a four-day working week. It’s certainly a shift from the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday working week, but is it really the work-life balance solution that part-time and flexible jobseekers are looking for?   

Let’s explore at what the four-day working week involves, and why it’s entirely different from a part-time job.

What's the thinking behind the four-day working week?

Friday fatigue or the weekend blues has become a real thing in the modern workplace. Many of us are so exhausted come Friday afternoon, that all we want to do is go home to sleep, which can have an impact on our weekend and family lives.

Couple this with statistics that reveal workplace stress equates to more than half of all the 26.8 million working days, annually, that are lost to ill health, and it all adds up to suggest that people in the UK are working too much. In fact, full-time workers in the UK, spend an average of 42.5 hours a week at work, compared to 41.2 hours in the rest of Europe.

Enter the four-day working week.

In an effort to battle workplace stress and related productivity issues, as well as boost the work-life balance of their employees, some British firms are turning to the four-day working week.

So how does it work?

Unlike an individually negotiated part-time job or a flexible working arrangement, the four-day working week is typically available on a whole-company basis.

In some cases, staff have been asked to compress five days’ worth of hours into four days; for example, working ten hours on their four days instead of eight. In others, the company has allowed staff to knock a day off their working week, with no cut in pay, and supported them to work more efficiently in the four remaining days.

The pros of a four-day working week

For some, this is an excellent solution. A whole day off every week comes with clear benefits, such as:

  • More time to spend with family and friends
  • Reduced childcare and travel costs
  • Better productivity during the hours spent at work
  • A positive environmental impact by cutting commute times
  • More time to spend on hobbies and interests or building up part-time businesses
  • More time to rest and fully recharge before starting the next working week

In fact, statistics show that, in one firm trialing this modern approach to work, nearly a quarter of employees felt a greater balance between their work and home life, while overall workplace stress decreased by 7%. An excellent result, all round.

Potential issues with the four-day working week

However, the four-day working week is still a fairly new concept and simply doesn’t suit many roles. Whereas industries like recruitment, PR and marketing may be able to fully embrace a compressed working schedule, they are well within the minority.

In other sectors, such as teaching, retail, banking or travel, or those that require a 24/7 presence, it’s more complex. Members of staff need to be available when there is a need for the service, so the four-day working week is much harder to implement.

Additionally, the full effects of the four-day working week are still to be felt. Even this early in the game, some employees are reporting:

  • More difficulty in securing a childcare place, with some childcare facilities preferring to accept children for five days a week instead of four
  • Increased stress and mental tiredness because of the compression of working hours into fewer days
  • Family disturbances, especially among younger parents coming home later due to increased hours over four days a week

So while we’re very happy that the four-day working week will nudge more employers to think about the effects of empowering their employees to work less, we also believe that it’s not an ideal solution for everyone. In fact, for employees looking for a flexible working schedule that better suits their personal circumstances, a part-time job might be a better fit.

For further support with asking your employer for flex or searching for a more flexible role, visit our help and advice section.

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