New normal | Will 2024 be the year when the four-day week becomes the standard? Probably not...

Will 2024 be the year when the four-day week becomes the standard? Probably not...

At one point in time, flexible working was a prime example of the benefits that truly had the power to lure and retain talent.

Those days are now behind us.

This isn’t because the prospect of working from home, or altering office hours around childcare or medical appointments isn’t still alluring. In fact, far from it. It’s because in the interim, the world experienced a massive shift. One that not only forced many businesses to adopt remote working policies or face the prospect of inactivity, but also changed the perceptions of workers about their careers, and the value of wellbeing in their working lives.

In a post-pandemic world, the concept of flexible working is largely considered a given. This is acutely true among companies that understand the persistent challenges in the talent market. So, where do we go from here? Where are those looking to push the boundaries of their benefits offering to turn? The answer is the four-day week.

You’ve likely heard the words ‘four-day week’ uttered at conferences, or read it plastered all over LinkedIn. In short, whilst there’s some variation in implementation, for most adopting a four-day week involves quite literally ditching one full working day. Employees work their normal hours, minus one fifth, and get paid the same amount for their effort.

The concept may sound ludicrous to some, yet the value of the idea goes far beyond simply being a valued benefit. Data from the largest trial ever to have taken place in the UK, as reported by Buffer, found that productivity among workers increased by 22%, job applications went up 88%, absenteeism went down by 66%. Employees are also reportedly less tired and happier.

So, we have an exciting new concept with stellar outcomes when trialled and the vast majority of businesses are yet to adopt it. Inevitably, this will be the next big thing in 2024, right? In reality, this is doubtful. Here’s why.

Whilst flexible working has been adopted en masse, let’s not forget the impetus that caused this boom – the pandemic. According to data from IPSE, the proportion of workers reporting they work exclusively at home rose from 5.7 per cent in January 2020 to 43.1 per cent in April 2020. Whilst flexible working was no new concept in early 2020, the pandemic served as the catalyst for huge change, convincing many traditionalists that ditching the nine-to-five and introducing remote working could actually work.

The pandemic was the biggest trial of such a concept in recent history. And herein lies the issue with the four-day week. Leaders need to be convinced. Yes, it’s likely that it will grow in 2024, but without a major shift in working culture to encourage those who dismiss it to give it a try, there’ll be no sudden boom. So no, 2024 will not be the ‘year of the four-day week’, but for early adopters, it could well be a vastly positive development.

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