Impact of the four-day week on the workplace

By Lord Mark Price

As the world evolves, so does the way employees work. Not too long ago it was normal to work every day of the week and Sunday was only a day off because the church requested it. The five-day working week has been our norm, but the concept of the four-day work week, once considered radical, is gaining traction across industries globally. This shift promises profound impacts on the workplace, reshaping how we approach work and leisure.

The four-day work week involves reducing the standard work week from five days to four, while maintaining the same number of working hours per week or slightly reducing them. This model can be structured as four eight-hour days or a compressed work schedule of four ten-hour days. The goal is to enhance productivity, improve employee satisfaction, and create a better work-life balance.

Supporters of the four-day work week argue that a shorter work week can lead to increased efficiency. The premise is that employees, knowing they have less time, will focus better and work more efficiently during their hours. The additional day off can significantly reduce burnout, stress, and absenteeism, leading to a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Despite its benefits, the four-day work week is not without challenges. Transitioning to a four-day work week requires careful planning and communication. Companies must reassess workload distribution, ensure cover during business hours if consumer-facing and set clear expectations. Without proper management, the change can lead to confusion and unmet deadlines. If the four-day work week is implemented by extending daily hours, it may lead to employee fatigue and reduced productivity. It’s crucial to find a balance that maximizes the benefits without overburdening staff.

The employee engagement platform that I founded over five years ago, WorkL, has surveyed employees from over 70,000 organisations worldwide and we ask every person who takes our Happy at Work survey a range of questions to find out just how happy and engaged they are at work, as well as what would improve their worklife.

Our analysis from Q1 reveals that responses to the question ‘I am happy with the hours I work’ the UK scored 74%, 2 percentage points lower than the Global average of 76%. This could be a reflection that UK employees desire to work fewer hours, potentially inspired by the increasing popularity of the four-day work week and successful trials reported in the news across the UK.

Comparatively employees from South Africa and the UAE have an impressive score of 79% when asked if they are happy with their working hours. This is the highest score from the countries analysed and 3 percentage points higher than the global average score of 76%.Employees in the USA also score 78% for this question.

When looking at Management vs Non-Management globally, Managers score 79% when asked how happy they are with their working hours, whereas Non-managers score just 74%, a five percentage point difference.

When looking at Management vs Non-Management in the UK for the question ‘I am happy with the hours I work’, Managers score 76% and Non-Managers 74%. ‘Similarly Managers in the USA score the same as the UK on this question’.

Managers in South Africa are the happiest with the hours they work when looking at the spotlighted territories, with an impressive score of 83%. This is 4 percentage points higher than the Global average 79% and 7 percentage points higher than Non-Managers in South Africa.

The Global Industry with the highest employee satisfaction score when asked if they were happy with their working hours is the Technology industry, with an impressive score of 81%. Comparatively the lowest scoring global industry was the Defence sector with a score of just 70%. When looking specifically in the UK the best scoring industry is the Non-Profit Organisation and Charities industry with an impressive score of 82%. By comparison, the lowest-scoring industry in the UK was Architecture and Design, with a score of just 70%. Our latest client survey has also showed that 22% of organisations were considering adopting a four-day working week. 33% have been following the Government’s pilot on the 4-day working week, 11% said their employees had requested a four-day working week and 88% said their organisation offers flexible working patterns outside a four-day working week.

In summary, I urge employers to tackle the four-day work week head on with their employees. Understand how this would benefit or hinder their employees, trial it, and if it goes ahead, set up a secure management system to ensure that employees are supported. Our working lives are evolving and employers must be ahead of the game and not be left behind.