The pros and cons of a 4 day week
Could a 4-day week really become a thing?
The pandemic has seen a number of business people and employees assess their working situations. Whether they’re in a fulfilling career, if they’re prepared to go back to commuting or if they wish to permanently work from home, the shifts they work and whether they’re viable with all the other commitments they may have…and more.
The latter is interesting. Since the emphasis on returning to the office appeared there’s been a lot of talk about four-day weeks, and whether the government should officially make this a thing.
Flexibility is key in 2021. We lead such busy lives, full of more activities than simply working. The world is 24/7, and when you consider how many people are out of work, due to the pandemic, there are enough of us to cover every single one of them. It’s not a regression or backwards step to consider a four-day week, i.e. it’s not as if we have to shut everything on the other three days, it’s more a focus on the sharing of tasks and working hours within a workforce. It also acknowledges the advances technology has made over the last couple of decades, and how much it has streamlined activities in most industries. Tonnes of time has been saved by AI, so why not take advantage of this?
Could a four-day week work for UK employers?
The most obvious one is happier, more productive employees. If they had more time to indulge in their passions and hobbies, and/or spend more time with their loved ones, they would feel more motivated and fulfilled when coming into work. Of course a 4:3 ratio is more attractive than a 5:2 split when it comes to enjoying a work/life balance.
Happier employees don’t take as many days off sick, and they have the energy to pour more of themselves into their work. They’re also more likely to stay with their employer for the long haul, saving money on recruitment fees typically associated with a high turnover of staff.
Working fewer days could also reduce commuting costs for workers; however, I suspect that this will be eradicated by the many opportunities to spend money in our leisure time. It’s unfeasible that people gaining an extra non-working day would spend it sat in the house without any extra spend on heating and utility costs, at least!
Cost is an obvious issue, but this depends on how you see a four-day week. Some employers would expect their employees to compress their usual hours, i.e. still fitting in their forty hours by working four ten-hour days. You can imagine the fallout of this…yes, the employee gets an extra day off, but after working longer shifts than they normally would, they may be too exhausted to enjoy it.
The other approach is to focus on results only and pay employees a five-day-a-week wage for four days present in/at work. This is of no consequence to the employer in theory, who will already be paying a five-day-a-week wage to these workers. Whether their employees still achieve the same output of work in four days as opposed to five, because they’re ‘more productive’ and ‘happier’, would remain to be seen. If they appreciated that they are having an extra day off with the same wage each week, they may be much more inclined to slog away harder in the hours they’re at work; however, some employees may not do this. There will always be those employees who take the mickey, however many days they work, but I can imagine this would rankle with the employer in question if they’re granting them an extra day off on their dime, so to speak.
Some opposers to the premise suggest that holiday entitlement would be affected if a four-day week was introduced; however, part-time workers have their entitlement worked out by the hour/pro-rata, so this is entirely doable to ensure employees would get the equivalent annual leave as they do now, working a five-day week. Contracts would need to be changed and the uneducated may believe they would be worse off if their annual holiday entitlement reduced, but they’d be forgetting that they would not need to use a full five days for a week away from work.
Costs certainly would go up if you operate a business that is public facing and/or runs seven days a week. Because, physically, you would have fewer people in the office at any one time, you would likely need to employ more people to cover the extra day off you’re bestowing on your employees. This will prove more expensive, and consumer prices would likely rise to compensate. Would the general public stand for this if they were to benefit from more time away from work, to do whatever they choose?
The verdict is…
If you monitored a typical employee during their five days in work, you would probably learn that a significant portion of their time is wasted, and that their productive hours would likely amount to four days a week. In this argument, a four-day week is entirely plausible and possibly even a benefit to businesses…IF employees were prepared to up their productively levels and churn out the same volume of work.
It does appear to be a solution that suits only certain industries, mainly those that do not deal directly with the public. Retail, hospitality and leisure would be just three of the sectors who would lose out massively, and who would be on a race to the bottom as to which company could absorb the extra costs of a four-day week and still remain competitive.
There’s no right or wrong answer, unfortunately, and it’s not simply a case of who’s a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ employer, when market forces and the nature of a business may be the reason a four-day week isn’t workable for its employees.
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