What is the '4-Day Work Week'?

Published on December 1, 2022 by Eleanor Holmes
What is the '4-Day Work Week'?

Exactly as it seems, the 4-day work week is when the traditional 5 days a week Monday to Friday is replaced with 4 days a week model. This could either be by extending the weekend by an extra day or offering a day in the midweek between working days to offer some respite for workers.

The 4-day work week has started to become more and more discussed in relation to new workplace initiatives. Reignited by the COVID-19 pandemic and the further conversations of work benefits and flexibility, it has now been trialled within the UK by 72 companies since June 2022. 100 companies have also taken the leap and implemented the 4-day work week on a permanent basis with no affect on employee pay.

The initial trial, run by 4 Day Week Global, has produced some interesting results from the companies involved. According to data from the trial, 78% of employees with 4 days weeks are happier and less stressed compared to when they were required to work 5 days a week. General job performance was also recorded as being the same as previous, despite having one less workday in the week. Therefore, it is no surprise that 100 UK companies have taken to adopting this schedule permanently. 

What are the overall benefits of a 4-day work week?

As discussed above, businesses surveyed have reported no discernible differences in productivity and performance when changing from a 5-day work week to a 4-day work week. However, what are the main benefits for making this significant change to the current Monday to Friday meta? Some examples of the advantages of switching to a 4-day work week are as follows:

  • Better work-life balance – it is important for your employees to have a sustainable work-life balance. By having an extra day free each week for their personal lives, they are able to more easily achieve an effective work-life balance. Whether this be by spending more time with their families, pursuing their interests, or exploring new hobbies. This will also foster more employee loyalty to their employer, as they feel more fulfilled outside of their work as well as within it.
  • Better employee mental health – burnout and stress can quite often be caused by or exacerbated by work. According to the UK Government's Thriving at Work report, time off or loss of productivity due to mental illness costs UK businesses between £33 billion and £42 billion each year. As a result, by reducing the number of workdays, you are allowing your employees more time to recuperate which may reduce these kinds of absences.
  • Reduced general sickness absences - current research from the 4-day work week trials suggests that employees working the 4-day week take fewer sick days than those working a 5-day week.  By adopting the shorter work week, employers can see less costs arising from sickness absences.
  • Attract more top talent – with around 72% of UK workers in favour of the 4-day work week, by getting ahead of the curve with this change you could be attracting more top talent. By adopting the 4-day work week, you are ensuring you are delivering a benefit that most employees would like to have. Conversely, should competing businesses adopt this approach before your own, they may bring in more of the industry’s top performers ahead of your own company.
  • Combat the gender pay gapresearch by think tank the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) has revealed that by reducing the days of paid work, it creates a better balance in pay between the sexes. This is because when women have children, they are quite often the main caregiver and therefore are unable to work as many hours. However, with the 4-day work week, more women are able to re-join full-time employment and caregiving responsibilities can be better balanced.
  • Flexibility and adaptability – a 4-day working week doesn't mean complete shut down on one day of the week. By managing staff effectively, you can have cover across all days of the week and therefore not impact your daily productivity. This also means your company can adapt to flexible working habits, such as hotdesking, which can ease the need for more resources in the long-term.

Image representation of work life balance

Are there any disadvantages of the 4-day work week?

Whilst the 4-day work week has started to become more popular to prospective employees, it is a significant shift in the current work culture of Monday – Friday in the western world. As a result, there are many factors for a business to consider before making a shift to this new working model.

  • Cost effectiveness - for small or medium-sized businesses, the prospect of paying the same salary for less active business hours can be daunting. Despite data showing no real loss in production with the 4-day working week, it is still one day lost to engage current and new clientele for businesses.
  • Customer satisfaction - a reduction in business days for a company has the potential to impact customers’ experience. This can either be due to projects taking longer the complete for clients, less customer support on a specific day, or simply being unable to access a product they usually can. Creating new policies would be crucial in order to establish that a degree of flexibility is required, such as not allowing staff to all take the same day off each week and to ensure there is sufficient cover for each day required.
  • Part-time workers must also be considered. Employees already on flexible working patterns may currently have their pay pro-rated to reflect the fact they work fewer days. This should be adjusted if the working week is reduced from five days to four. There are different ways to do this, for example, by increasing the pay of staff who work part time, reducing their hours proportionately or adjusting their annual leave entitlement (see the 4 Day Week Campaign for more information). Given most part-time workers remain women, an employer may risk a large-scale indirect discrimination or equal pay claim if an adjustment of some sort is not made.

How can you implement the 4-day working week?

First of all, the 4-day work week is not going to be viable or appropriate for every kind of business. Certain industries may require certain employees to be available for 5 or more days in a week or operate on a shift basis. As a result, it may not be possible to implement this new model to every type of company.

However, for the many businesses that can adopt this new way of working, it does not have to be done alone and without support. The not-for-profit community 4 Day Week Global has an array of resources for your business to start the implementation of a 4-day work week. The most effective approach is to enlist with their pilot programmes so you can access their support and be alongside many other businesses that will be trialling the change.

Additionally, the 4 Day Week Global website has a guide on how to get started out on your own, and offers some valuable advice and insights on undertaking this change.

Read more from the myhrtoolkit blog

Could the 4 day work week work for UK SMEs?

Does a four day work week reduce sickness absence?


Picture of Eleanor Holmes

Written by Eleanor Holmes

Eleanor is a marketing executive at myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology and software, workplace culture, and marketing advice for HR consultants.

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