Wellbeing | Four-day week arrives in UK as Scotland rolls out £10m trial

Four-day week arrives in UK as Scotland rolls out £10m trial

Increasingly, businesses and even several nations have been experimenting with four-day working weeks in a bid to boost productivity and workplace wellbeing.

And now, the concept has reached the UK, with a report confirming that the Scottish Government will roll out its own trial of fewer working days – without a reduction in pay – in a pilot ministers say could help sustain jobs and enhance the wellbeing of its citizens.

As was reported by The Scotsman, pilots are being staged in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the SNP having pledged £10million funding for companies which take part in the trials.

The plans appear to be widely backed by Scottish citizens, with research for think tank IPPR Scotland finding that 80% of people believed that reducing the number of working days, without a reduction in pay, would have a “positive effect on their wellbeing”, according to The Scotsman.

The survey of more than 2,000 Scots between 16 and 65-years-old, also found that 88% would be willing to take part in trial schemes being set up, and almost two-thirds believe a shorter working week could boost Scotland’s productivity.

A Scottish Government Spokesman said: “The pandemic has served to intensify interest in and support for more flexible working practices, which could include a shift to a four-day working week.

“Reductions in the working week might help sustain more and better jobs, and enhance wellbeing.”

The spokesperson continued: “The pilot will allow us to develop a better understanding of the implications of a broader shift to a shorter working week across the economy.”

Roz Foyer, Scottish Trades Union Congress General Secretary, said: “Moving workers to a four-day week, without loss of pay, would bring a wide range of benefits.

“We welcome the recommendation that the Scottish Government should expand its four-day week pilot to include more sectors, including non-office-based jobs and those who work different shifts.

“A four-day week should be for everyone, and research into it should take into account workers other than nine-to-five office workers.

“If Scotland is serious about creating a wellbeing economy, then a four-day week is a key way to make progress towards it.”

Iceland & Unilever New Zealand

The news of Scotland’s four-day work week trial follows other countries and employers who have previously rolled out something similar.

For example, in early-July, Iceland published the results of its four-day working week trial, with researchers dubbing it an ‘overwhelming success’.

According to reports from The Independent, more than one per cent of the working population took part by cutting their work hours to 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay.

And, analysts from both Iceland and the UK stated that, due to the rise in productivity and wellbeing found in the trial, a four-day work week should now be tested across other geographies.

But, the topic of the four-day work week was around even before Iceland’s trial. In fact, The Guardian previously reported that the multinational consumer goods giant Unilever was poised to trial the concept across its New Zealand Operations.

At the time, the company announced that 81 of its employees across the nation would be able to participate in the new trial and have the option of working four days per week for the next year.

It was reported that all staff would be paid their current salary, with no forfeit for the reduction in hours.

Unilever’s New Zealand Managing Director, Nick Bangs, previously said that the aim of the change was to optimise the time that staff spent at work, not to increase the working hours on the four-days that staff will spend working.

“If we end up in a situation where the team is working four extended days then we miss the point of this,” he said. “We don’t want our team to have really long days, but to bring material change in the way they work.”

What are the benefits to HR of a four-day working week?

The topic of a four-day working week, and the benefits that it could bring to both staff and the business, is something that will likely be of interest to HR leaders.

Although the concept was tested out in Iceland, there have been calls for this to be tested out in other areas such as the UK, which begs the question as to how this could impact the HR agenda.

Key findings from the think tank Autonomy in the UK and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland, found that some of the outcomes included a significant increase in worker wellbeing, reduced perceived stress and lower levels of burnout – all of which have likely increased elsewhere as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

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The researchers also found that productivity and work-life balance were significantly improved, leading Alda Researcher Gudmundur D. Haraldsson to suggest that other countries should be following Iceland’s example.

"The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too," Haraldsson said.

“Our roadmap to a shorter working week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone who wishes to see working hours reduced."

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