Positives vs negatives | Will the four-day week make it to the US?

Will the four-day week make it to the US?

The four-day week is likely something that many of our readers will be familiar with; and for those who aren’t, the concept is quite simple. Instead of working a standard five day week, those campaigning for a four day week claim that it’s beneficial not just for the worker, but the employee too.

Overall, it’s a concept which has been viewed as deeply divisive. Those for and against the idea have largely dismissed it as nothing more than an intriguing, yet completely infeasible, concept. That is, until recently.

In fact, whilst many may still choose to see a four-day working week as a headscratcher, it’s gaining investment from major international sources. Unilever’s New Zealand operations announced in November of 2021 that it would trial the concept, predicting that it would see ‘significant returns’, as reported by The Guardian.

Likewise, the nation of Iceland recently announced a similar trial for its population between 2015 and 2019, which was dubbed an “overwhelming success” by its Government, with productivity remaining the same or improved in most workplaces. As a result, now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will gain the right to. Benefits have included workers feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout, and improvements in health and work-life balance.

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“Its time has come,” notes Economist Aidan Harper, who has championed the four-day week with colleagues at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) thinktank, along with a growing number of political organisations across Europe.

The concept has now spread to other more conservative nations such as the UK, where a concerted effort to pull off a major trial is being managed by 4 Day Week Global. It will see workers completing the usual amount of work, and up to 35 hours each week, but split over four days rather than five. The concept is being heralded by the organisers as a “bold new future of work”.

“The rule is simple: do whatever you need each week to make your four working days better,” notes Mark Wilson, CEO at Wilson Fletcher, a business innovation consultancy that has offered a four-day week for its employees for the last three years. “The experience has been overwhelmingly positive for us. We produce better work, we have improved our team’s wellbeing and the working culture and, most reassuring of all, we have increased overall productivity.

Wilson adds: “The opportunity of the four-day week is real: qualitative and quantitative benefits for both company and employees. The barriers are all logistical and can be overcome. Based on our experience, any leader who is not actively considering implementing a four-day week could be missing a crucial competitive advantage.”

Data-backed advantages

We’ve definitely heard a lot about the so-called advantages brought about by offering a four-day week, but what does the data say? According to Vicky Walker, Director of People at Westfield Health, the company’s own research points to good things. "Research carried out by Westfield Health has revealed that flexible ways of working (19%), mental health assistance (15%), and policies that support wellbeing are the top three things’ employees want. One of these flexible opportunities is a shift to a four-day working week.

“With benefits for both employees, the economy, and even the environment, it is thought that an additional day off could help increase employee satisfaction and performance, support childcare arrangements and enable workers to be more productive. After a period where wellbeing and productivity have been put under severe pressure, working together teams and managers should develop new approaches that work for them. A four-day week is just one solution."

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Other trials have also garnered good data-driven results. After closing its offices every Friday in May 2019, recruitment firm MRL Consulting Group, saw an incredible 95% staff retention rate, productivity levels increased by 25%, and 87% of employees reported improvement in their mental health and reduction in workplace stress.

A further 95% said that they feel more rested after having a three-day weekend. Short-term absence has also reduced by almost 40%. Unsurprisingly, the six-month trial for all employees has now been implemented as a permanent fixture within the company due to the huge success.

“We are driven by results, rather than the amount of time people spend at their desks,” noted David Stone, Chief Executive Officer at MRL. “I trusted my staff to have enough self-motivation and discipline to be able to manage their time in order to fit five days of work into four. The results generated during the six-month trial have led us to implement a four-day week working model on a permanent basis.”

How do employees feel?

Of course, there’s little point in considering a four-day week trial, if it’s not actually what workers want. Many have noted on LinkedIn that their workers are worried that the concept will simply mean working the same hours, yet with a day less of manager aid and supervision.

Others see it as infeasible to complete their role in just for working days. However, the new trial has undeniably created a buzz. According to data released by Instant Offices, there has been a 110% rise in UK Google searches referencing a four-day working week this month.

Yet, likely for the reasons above, a significant portion of the workforce aren’t sold yet. Instant Offices’ data also revealed that just over half of workers (51%) want to work a four-day week – a far cry from the levels one may presume. However, regardless of current levels of interest and investment, one thing is clear. The four-day week is far from simply a passing fad. This new way of working is here to stay, and it may yet become the norm.

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