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Good news for the four-day working week – and wider insights for flexible working

The four-day week pilot has had a hugely positive impact on the companies who took part. Now let’s look at how to make it work for all kinds of organisations, including those on the frontline.

Four day week

By Claire Campbell, Consultancy Director

The six-month UK pilot of the four-day working week saw 61 companies trialling the concept, with a meaningful reduction in work time and no loss of pay. It finished in December, the results are now in – and it’s an incredibly positive picture.

Here at Timewise, we’ve been following the 4-Day Week movement since the start. It’s been brilliant to see so many companies willing to challenge existing norms, and step up to try to improve their staff’s working lives and well-being. And we welcome the positive debates about working hours and productivity which have been amplified by the pilot – and will no doubt be discussed with increasing intensity following the publication of its outcomes.

The demand for less-than-full-time roles is certainly there; our recent research in partnership with the JRF indicated that over 8 million people in the UK are either working part-time, or would prefer to. And our previous research suggested that 1 in 4 full-time workers would choose to work fewer hours, provided they didn’t have to lower their hourly pay rate or damage their career progression.

We also know that widening access to part-time opportunities is a great way to help key groups of people enter and stay in the workplace – particularly parents, carers, people with health issues and older workers. And given the twin pressures of the cost-of-living crisis and a tight labour market, as well as the upcoming right to ask for flex from day one, it’s something all employers should consider.

Positive outcomes from the 61 pilot companies

So the results from the four-day week pilot are landing at a good time – and the headline findings show how positive the experience has been, for both the companies involved and their employees:

  • 56 of the 61 companies are continuing with the four-day week, with 18 confirming that it is a permanent change.
  • Over the trial period the companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same, and the number of staff leaving dropped by 57% .
  • Before and after data showed that 39% of employees were less stressed, and 71% had reduced levels of burnout, at the end of the trial.
  • 60% of employees found it easier to combine paid work with caring responsibilities and 62% to combine work with their social lives.
  • And interestingly, 15% of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over a four-day working week.

Why a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer

Clearly, this is excellent news for the companies involved, and for others who might be considering something similar. And it’s also providing some useful learnings that apply more generally to flexible working.

It’s particularly telling that the pilot was based on a flexible approach to how the companies involved interpreted the four-day week. The organisers rejected a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, stipulating only that companies should maintain pay at 100% alongside a ‘meaningful reduction’ in work time.

So while some chose to shut down operations on the same day each week, others asked staff to alternate days off, to maintain five-day coverage. Some used a combination of the two, matched to each department’s specific needs. And others were more flexible still, such as the restaurant that trialled an annualised arrangement, in which staff had a 32 hour average working week, but with shorter opening hours in winter and longer in summer.

Some organisations need to take an even more flexible approach

This is important, because a rigid four-day, 32-hour working week won’t necessarily work for all organisations, or for everyone in an organisation. While office-based staff may be able to reduce their hours by getting their work done more efficiently, this can’t be achieved in the same way in organisations which employ some or all frontline employees. And it’s hard to see where productivity savings could be found in cost-constrained, shift-based, service-based or production roles.

So leaders who want to offer their staff the chance to work less, but can’t necessarily offer this kind of four-day week, need to take an even more flexible approach, and develop bespoke arrangements that match the needs of the organisation and its staff. This could include offering more traditional part-time, compressed hours and annualised options, as well as exploring ways to give shift-based employees more input into and control over their rotas.

We’re currently working with a number of companies to explore the viability of a four-day week – as well as continuing to support companies from all sectors to consider the full range of flexible working options. If you would like to discuss how we could help you get the right flexible working in place for your organisation, please get in touch.

Published February 2023

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