The Wellcome Trust is the largest employer yet to consider moving to a four-day working week.
The Guardian broke the news last Friday, reporting that the firm has announced they are considering moving its 800 head office staff to a four-day week in a bid to boost productivity and improve work-life balance.
If the scheme goes ahead, it would allow staff to take Friday off with no cut in pay.
A trial of the new system could start as early as this autumn, with a final decision due within the next few months.
There has been steadily growing pressure in the UK for more organisations to adopt a shorter working week. The Trades Unions Congress (TUC) last year called for a reduction of working hours in the UK, citing research that found almost half of workers want a four-day week.
The Union said that UK workers put in the longest hours in the EU, behind only Austria and Greece. But Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the Manchester Business School, previously told HR Grapevine that working longer hours does not lead to stronger productivity.
“We have the longest working hours in Europe”, he said. “And the second longest in the developed world. But our productivity is amongst the lowest."
"We also know that longer hours means worse health.”
Furthermore, a study by the University of Auckland showed 78% of employees felt better able to successfully manage their work-life balance when working a four-day week (an increase of 24% compared with the five-day week)
Fewer days at work also resulted in lower stress levels whilst workers’ sense of stimulation, commitment and empowerment all improved significantly, with overall life satisfaction increasing by five per cent.
There are, however, some concerns that a four-day week that demands workers take Fridays off could harm flexibility. Additionally, the Auckland University report said some workers ended up more stressed because they had less time to complete essential tasks.
“If you have a shorter working week you have to think how can you use your time really effectively,” said Ed Whiting, Wellcome’s Director of Policy. “It’s the concept of seeing time as the most finite thing.”
He added that it looks like moving the working week to four days rather than five gets you a broader productivity and wellbeing benefit overall. “You have a healthier workforce, a reduction in sickness absence and improved sense of work-life balance,” he said.