Let's talk about a 4 day work week

Let's talk about a 4 day work week

We'll take a look at the five day work week, how we got there, and how a four day week could be the future of UK office working.

Is Thursday the new Friday?

It seems that perhaps it could be, with 64% of UK businesses saying they would back the introduction of a four-day work week (raconteur.net April 2023) and 92% of employers in the Workweek Pilot saying they would continue with a shortened work week (February 2023). 

There's less data on whether employees would want a 20% reduction in their office hours for the same pay, but I think it's fair to assume they would. 

Monday morning blues, in 1850.

Monday morning was a very different affair in the 19th century. Workers would Start their work week on a Tuesday and rush to get the weeks' work done by Saturday, giving them a days break on a Sunday (for religion or other purposes). Then, Monday was taken off as a recovery day from Sundays' festivities. 

Religious groups and trade unions sought to formalise a 'weekend break' in the mid 19th century, religious groups hoping it would improve church attendance on Sundays and trade unions seeking a half-day on Saturday for workers to rest and pursue education in return for a full working day on Monday. 

By the end of the 19th century, football had truly 'kicked off' in the UK as the decision was made to stage matches on a Saturday afternoon, and with the leisure industry growing rapidly businesses also took the opportunity to offer entertainment at the same time. by 1930 the half day Saturday was all-but-gone and replaced by what we now know as the 48 hour weekend. Hooray!

Corporate Responsibility

The push for a 3 day weekend has been round for some time, in fact when the half-day Saturday was phased out in 1930 economist John Maynard Keynes estimated that technological change and productivity improvements would make a 15-hour work week possible within a couple of generations. Whilst we aren't quite there, the cultural norm was been been continuously challenged, Richard Nixon famously promised a 4-day work week "soon" in 1956. 

Currently though it is corporate social responsibility that is driving the latest call for change in the UK. With companies being ever pressured into the ethical running of their business, for the economy, for the climate, and for the people.

Studies have shown that happy employers deliver better results (of course) and thus an increase in productivity; we know how much management loves an increase in productivity!

It goes further than productivity too, companies like Glassdoor and LinkedIn allow employees to rate their business anonymously forcing companies to ensure they keep their current staff happy, else they suffer a loss in brand strength and a smaller pool of new talent to employ. 

So, is a four day week the answer?

Well yes, and no. Clearly many companies are going through a tough time at the moment, profit warnings were up 50% in 2022 and it seems that major companies are making redundancies daily. Taking a chance on giving staff a 20% reduction in working hours would be a big decision for even the most secure companies in the current climate. Current data suggests that many businesses are trialing the somewhat safer hybrid working environment where employees get to spend a proportion of their week working from home.

On a positive note though, employers prioritising staff welfare should note a survey in Northern Ireland that suggested 71% of employees would prefer a 4 day work week that involved them working 100% in the office, compared to 29% who preferred a hybrid working scenario split over 5 days. 

Conclusion

Whatever the outcome, we have around 1.1m vacancies in the UK (as of April 2023); if businesses are to attract their ideal candidates, colleague welfare will have to take a front seat in negotiations. It looks like the idea of a 4-day work week is here to stay, but just as weekend working took many years to become widespread we may find the same happens with our Friday day off. 

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