This week around 70 UK companies have begun a trial of a four-day week today in what is thought to be the biggest pilot of its kind. The trial will last for six months and is led by 4 Day Week Global, a group campaigning for a shorter working week with no loss of wages. It will run alongside similar pilot schemes taking place in Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
As Personnel Today reports the trial will be monitored by academics from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, alongside the think tank Autonomy and Boston College in the US. A range of employers, including a chip shop in Norfolk, a software company in Yorkshire and a charity bank in Kent have pledged to pay workers 100% for 80% of the time, as long as workers commit to 100% productivity. Government-backed four-day week trials are also due to begin later this year in Spain and Scotland.
The Guardian also reports on this and quotes Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the pilot. She explains how they will be analysing how employees respond to having an extra day off, in terms of stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel and many other aspects of life. She says: “The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple-dividend policy – helping employees, companies, and the climate. Our research efforts will be digging into all of this.”
Joe O’Connor is the CEO of 4 Day Week Global and he links the trial to the race for talent. He said: “As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge.” The evidence supports that view - research by HR software company Factorial last year identified the four-day week as the most desirable employee benefit.
So perhaps this really is a new frontier and, given the race for talent, potentially a powerful way to attract and retain staff, especially the younger generation. With her thoughts on that, diversity and inclusion specialist, Kate Dodd:
Kate Dodd: “It’s very interesting. When you look at generational diversity in the workplace, we know that younger people will value experience over things like pension or, even, salary. They want to enjoy their work, they want to feel that they are fulfilled and, of course, what better way to do that than to have a four-day week. I’m somebody who's worked four days for a long, long time since having my children and it used to be seen as something that was really quite potentially damaging for an individual to say, look, I want to go part time, because it was essentially seen as a red flag - oh, here's somebody who is more concerned about their home life than they are about their work life and does this suggests a lack of ambition, a lack of commitment, etcetera? So it’s very interesting that in the space of, you know, 14/15 years we've actually seen a real reversal on this to say, look, it's now the smart companies who are encouraging flexible working and they're encouraging people to take up more of a work life balance as long, of course, as they get the day job done.”
Joe Glavina: “Looking at this from the employer’s perspective, measuring productivity is going to be crucial. So if you take law firms for example, that’s done through time recording, measuring 6 minute units of time. So that’s one way.”
Kate Dodd: “It is. Productivity is going to be key and also, as you say, the ability to measure that productivity is going to be absolutely essential. I was quite interested, when I was reading upon this and listening to the interviews etcetera, where people were saying, well, there'll be no impact on customer experience and that if you were used to expecting things by Friday afternoon you'll get on a Thursday afternoon. How that works in practice, I'm not 100% sure. I don't know how you deal with things that come in on a Friday, for example, because it's not as if the rest of the world has stopped spinning on a Friday because your business has decided not to work that day. I can imagine, actually, that lots of businesses will choose to stagger this so that they will have people choosing to have which of their non-working days they want to be out of the office, or the home office, in order to smooth availability of resources etcetera and to make sure that client and customer demand is me but if they can't measure it, the only way of being able to measure it will be then kind of coming down to profit and also customers potentially voting with their feet going elsewhere and, of course, businesses need to be spotting trends and realising that there are issues way before that type of thing starts to happen.”
Joe Glavina: “So is this really any different to a pay rise, Kate?”
Kate Dodd: “It's a really good question and I think it is different to offering a pay rise. Obviously, everyone would like to have a bit more money in their pocket at the end of each month, but I do think there are a lot of people who are looking for something different. We also know that with the ‘race for talent’ at the moment, huge amount of skill shortages, and not just in Britain but globally, but Britain, of course, has been really badly affected because of Brexit. So here are employees who are hugely in demand and they are already able to dictate the salary terms, and they are already able to say these are the terms or conditions that they want to work to and one of those things, of course, that you tend not to be able to dictate is to say, well, I want to work four days a week and get paid for five. So, I do think that this will be being utilised by smart employers particularly for roles that are hard to fill, or where there is a great deal of competition for talent.”
If you’re interested in knowing more about the trial, or perhaps even joining in, then the place to go is the website of 4-Day-Week where they say you’ll have unparalleled access to the expertise, tools, and resources you will need to run a smooth and successful trial. We’ve put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.