Between June and December 2022 sixty-one different organisations in the UK took part in a four-day working week trial. This pilot scheme was launched by the 4 Day Week Campaign and involved approximately 3,000 workers receiving 100% pay for working 80% of their previous hours, with a commitment to maintain 100% productivity (known as the 100:80:100 model). The participating businesses were from a range of sectors including banking, retail, manufacturing and housing. The organisations tailored the trial to their operational requirements, with only a handful choosing a variable non-working day or a combination of two non-working half days and most opting for a set non-working day.
Results of the trial
The 4 Day Week Campaign published the results of the trial in a full report and confirmed that the pilot scheme was a resounding success. As a result of this success, the campaign is encouraging more employers to adopt the new way of working.
90% of the employees surveyed following the trial said they “definitely wanted to” continue with a four-day working week and the majority stated that it had a positive impact on their physical health, wellbeing and work/life balance. By the end of the trial 46% noticed a reduction in fatigue, 54% confirmed they experienced fewer negative emotions and 71% had reduced levels of burnout.
Employees were able to use the extra day off for various other activities, such as volunteering, assisting relatives, exercising, and carrying out household chores/’life admin’. Employees reported financial advantages with working one less day a week, particularly in relation to childcare costs, which reduced for 21% of the employees that took part. During the current cost of living crisis many employees were also glad to be making savings by not commuting to the workplace.
However, those employees who were part of conditional trials (where continuation of the shorter working week was subject to them meeting performance targets) provided less positive feedback, complaining that the decision making was “opaque” and there was particular discontentment where other parts of the business continued with the trial.
From an employer’s perspective the pilot scheme was largely successful. 18 of the 61 organisations have confirmed that they will permanently adopt the four-day working week and 56 companies will be continuing with the trial. Importantly, 35% of the employers reported an increase in their productivity and output compared to the same period in the previous year and revenues increased during the pilot by 1.4% on average.
There was a positive impact on recruitment with some companies experiencing an increase in applications during the trial. Staff retention rates improved with a decrease in resignations of 57%. Staff absenteeism also declined with sickness absences reducing by 65% during the pilot.
Despite the encouraging results, the trial did not work for all the organisations involved. Some companies struggled with the intensity of completing five days’ work in the reduced timeframe and others abandoned the pilot all together.
Considerations for employers
Following the success of the trial, several other companies may look to implement the four-day working week for their staff. Any organisations looking to make this change will need to take the following questions into consideration:
Is the move to a shorter working week feasible and realistic?
The results of the pilot demonstrate that the four-day working week is not likely to be universally feasible for all businesses, sectors and workers. It may not necessarily be reasonable to expect all work to be completed in the shorter time period and the associated potential pressures must be weighed up against the advantages of an additional day off for staff. Employers must carefully consider the best approach to adopt, taking into account the needs of the business and productivity, before deciding how it will be implemented and rolled out across the organisation.
What will be the impact on the workplace culture?
It is likely that work processes and procedures will need to be altered in order to avoid reducing workloads and to ease any difficulties that can arise with shorter working hours. The trial highlighted that some staff had to work more intensely and work additional hours just to complete tasks. A number of businesses reported that employees were pragmatic and innovative when faced with the challenges of continuing productivity in a shorter timeframe, including implementing new practices such as allocating set times of the day for independent working without interruptions and changing the usual ways of communicating and conducting meetings. As always, it is important to ensure that good working relationships are formed and maintained and that morale is kept high in the workplace.
Will the employees’ terms and conditions need to be amended?
Employees’ working hours and patterns will clearly be impacted by the introduction of a four-day working week and changes may also be required to other terms, such as annual holiday entitlement. Employers will therefore need to obtain the consent of their affected employees to alter the terms and conditions of their contracts before making any amendments. Obtaining consent is unlikely to be an issue in situations where the employee will be receiving an additional day off a week without a change in pay. However, where the move to a shorter working week is subject to a successful trial period, employers should contemplate how the change would be easily withdrawn if required.
Should there be an initial trial period?
It is important for employers to ensure that they do not commit to permanently offering a four-day working week until they are confident it will be right for their organisation. Employee relations may be harmed if the change is revoked and if employees simply refuse to return to a five-day week, it could pose further problems with dismissals likely to be the only option available to employers. Where appropriate, it should be clarified with employees that there has not been a permanent change to working hours and it is on the basis of an initial trial period only with no definite amendments having been made to any terms of employment.
Will any policies need to be revised?
If the four-day working week is to be introduced, the business’ current policies will need to be reviewed and revised. In particular, employee monitoring may need to be increased to safeguard against any drop in efficiency and productivity. It may also be necessary to broaden privacy policies so that any enhanced monitoring of employees is permitted.
What about part-time workers?
The position of part-time workers who already work four days a week or less must be taken into consideration. They may feel aggrieved that they are paid only 80% pay for working 80% of full-time hours, which may cause harm to employee relations and grievances. Part-time workers have statutory protection against less favourable treatment and so there is the potential for claims to be brought against the company at the Employment Tribunal. Employers would need to decide whether to offer an equivalent change to working hours for no loss of pay or increasing pay for current working hours. This, in turn, would require employers to consider the impact on productivity.
Will workers’ activities on non-working days need to be monitored?
Employees taking part in the trial reported using their additional day off to carry out voluntary/charitable work or other work related to ‘side hustles’. Employers need to ensure that they clearly communicate their expectations of employees on non-working days, particularly if they may need employees to work on these days and whether that activates overtime or time off in lieu provisions. Working time should be monitored and employees should be made aware of any limits that apply to what they are permitted to do in relation to exclusivity and conflicts of interest or confidentiality.
The results of the four-day working week trial have demonstrated that the way of working is continuously evolving and there is an expectation to consider more imaginative solutions to flexible working. Companies are required to listen and adapt to what works for employees but a move to a shorter working week is not without its challenges from an employment law perspective. While the benefits to the participants of the trial are evident, the four-day working week is not realistic for all businesses and employers should think carefully before implementing the change.