In the UK, the 4-day workweek has been the subject of much debate, with proponents arguing that it could boost productivity, reduce stress and improve mental health.
In September 2021, the UK government announced a trial of a 4-day workweek for some public sector workers, in what is being hailed as a groundbreaking experiment. Since then, dozens of British employers who have trialled a four-day working week have mostly decided to stick with it after a pilot hailed as a breakthrough by campaigners for better work-life balance.
Reaping the benefits are employees from 61 companies across Britain, who worked for an average of 34 hours across four days between June and December 2022, while earning their existing salary. Of those, 56 companies, or 92%, opted to continue like that, 18 of them permanently. This trial was the largest ever conducted in the world, covering 2,900 staff in total across different sectors. These ranged from nominal finance giants like Stellar Asset Management to digital manufacturer Rivelin Robotics - as well as a local fish-and-chip shop in the coastal town of Wells-next-the-sea.
The concept of a 4-day workweek has gained increasing popularity in recent years as workers seek greater flexibility and work-life balance. The idea is simple: instead of working 5 days a week, employees work 4 days for the same pay, allowing them to have an extra day off each week.
So, what are the potential benefits of a 4-day workweek, and what impact could it have on the UK economy?
One of the main arguments in favour of a 4-day workweek is that it could actually boost productivity. Studies have shown that working fewer hours can lead to improved focus, concentration and creativity, as well as reduced stress and burnout.
Research conducted by the Henley Business School in 2019 found that productivity increased by around 20% among employees who switched to a 4-day workweek. Their investigation revealed that in a shortened amount of time, employees felt an in centive to meet - and even surpass productivity goals. Those participated in the stuy reported that the 4-day working week made them: “much more efficient”, given their “preparedness to focus, and to make the most out of their time at work”.
Another study by the University of Iceland in 2015 found that a shorter workweek resulted in workers feeling more energised and engaged at work. This not only led to many experiencing increased productivity but also feeling overall improvement in terms of their well-being. This occurrence draws a key argument in favour of a 4-day workweek; in its ability to provide better work-life balance for employees. As it stands, many workers in the UK struggle to balance their work and personal lives, with long hours and inflexible schedules leading to stress and burnout.
A shorter workweek could help to address these issues by allowing workers more time to spend with their families and pursue their interests and hobbies. This could lead to improved mental health and wellbeing, as well as increased job satisfaction and retention rates. A survey by the TUC in 2018 found that 1 in 4 workers in the UK were unhappy with their work-life balance, with long working hours being a key factor. A 4-day workweek could help to address these concerns, leading to a happier and more engaged workforce.
While a 4-day workweek has many potential benefits, there are also some potential drawbacks that need to be considered.
One concern is that a shorter workweek could lead to a reduction in wages, as employees would be working fewer hours. However, the trial being run by the TUC will ensure that workers are paid the same amount for working fewer hours, so this should not be a significant issue. Another concern is that a 4-day workweek could lead to increased pressure on workers to complete their tasks within a shorter period of time. This could lead to increased stress and burnout, particularly if workers feel that they are unable to complete their work within the allotted time.
However, these concerns can be addressed through careful planning and management. Employers will need to ensure that workers are not overloaded with tasks, to ensure that their peers are able to maintain the momentum and productivity needed.