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Should we move to a 4-day working week?

Greg Devine


WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER spelled out in wooden letter tiles on white background

In July last year, we suggested that a 4-day week could prove beneficial to businesses. The pandemic showed us many different ways of working, and the possibility of a shorter working week doesn’t seem as far-fetched today as it may have, once.

This week, 70 UK companies are trialling this concept, cutting their regular 5-day working week to four days. They believe it will help their employees, the companies themselves, and the environment.

The trial is set to last for six months. Coordinated by 4-day Week Global and their UK partners, alongside researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College, one huge element underpinning the project is that no employee will lose any money; they will still receive 100% of the pay they would receive if they worked a 5-day week.

4-day Week Global are advocating something called the 100-80-100 model. This means employees will get 100% of the pay for 80% of the time they would usually work whilst still retaining 100% of their original productivity.

This all sounds great, but I believe the theory is flawed.

Everywhere I look, as I research the subject, I read that this approach will improve the wellbeing of employees. When has a business decision ever been for the benefit of its employees?! This isn’t about employees getting a day off for free; the required work still must be done—just in less time or over fewer days. I can’t help but feel this would make employees more stressed.

I do agree that the move would be better for the environment and the pockets of the employees it would apply to. A 4-day week would mean a day less of commuting, which means one day less a week that you would drive a car that’s ultimately polluting the atmosphere (not to mention that said car would need less fuel as a result…more money in the pockets of workers).

If we’re going down that route, though, a 4-day week also benefits the company’s bottom line. It’s one more day where they wouldn’t need to pay for office space, and it would also reduce the amount they spend on gas and electricity.

Corporate business desktop with laptop, office accessories and a clock: business productivity and deadlines concept

Corporate business desktop with laptop, office accessories and a clock: business productivity and deadlines concept

There are also claims that a 4-day week would be better for gender equality and childcare, as caring responsibilities could be better spread across both parent’s rotas. One day of the week, parents wouldn’t need childcare at all. 4-Day Week Global seem to be under the impression that two days of childcare wouldn’t be needed, but this choice wouldn’t be the parents. That would come down to which days their employers wish them to work. There’s no guarantee that one parent would work Tuesday to Friday whilst the other worked Monday to Thursday.

So, would a 4-day week benefit me as an employee? Well, financially, yes. I would only have to commute four days a week, meaning I would save one round trip a week in fuel and wear and tear on my car. That being said, I would probably spend my new day off at home…would I, therefore, spend more on gas, electric and water instead?

Once at work, I’d still have the same amount to do, just fewer days to complete it. To make up for this, I would apparently need to work smarter or harder. Does this not sound offensive to you? My employer, if going for this approach, would essentially be saying, ‘we believe you can work harder than you were before,’ and questioning my effort. What would really happen is that you would end up staying at work on those four days for longer, to make up for lost time. This would mean less free time when you got home in the evening. With less time to relax, I would find myself more stressed when trying to get to sleep. And if our sleep is negatively impacted, this ‘great idea’ could become the greatest challenge to our mental health we’ve seen.

It just seems to be one of those initiatives that sounds great, but when you actually break it down, you realise you’ll actually be worse off. I appreciate that this is just my opinion, but I believe many people will agree with me. Change is an important thing, but a 5-day working week has been the status quo for a long time and I don’t believe it needs changing. Companies should be looking into how they can improve the wellbeing of their employees— this 4-day week seems just a façade to me. It’s the perfect way to hide cost-saving measures…sell it as something that boosts employee wellbeing.

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