One of the big things that users of our office facilities at incspaces have been talking about in recent times is the potential of shorter working weeks.

As of June this year, around 70 companies in the UK started trialling the four-day week. It involves some 3,300 workers and will run for 6 months. According to the Guardian recently:
“Researchers will work with each participating organisation to measure the impact on productivity in the business and the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.”

What is the 4-Day Week?

It’s basically what it says on the tin – employers allow their staff to work a 4-day week for the same pay as a 5-day week. It operates based on a 100-80-100 model. This means that you work 80% of the time but get 100% of the pay. The catch is you have to deliver 100% of the productivity during the shorter working hours.

The idea of a much shorter working week has been around for a long time – in the 70s President Richard Nixon was telling voters that they would be working a 4-day week very shortly, partly driven by technological changes and new working practices. While it never quite took off, in more recent times it’s become an attractive proposition for several reasons.

What Are the Benefits?

The trails that are currently going on around the world are looking at whether this is a successful approach to modern working. The idea is that businesses will be able to save money and resources and their staff will be more productive over the 4 days because they simply feel better.

• Giving employees an extra day off where they can spend time with their family, pursue hobbies and generally destress should mean, according to advocates, they return to work feeling refreshed and are naturally more productive.

• There may also be a benefit in helping to rebalance or level-up employment in general. It could mean that those people who are overworked are less stressed out and those that may be underused in an organisation make more productive use of their time.

• In addition, there may be a benefit in helping to reduce the impact of businesses on the climate though this is currently far from clear.

The outcomes of the trials depend on workers being just as productive as they would be if operating a 5 day week. Its basic assumption is that because the work-life balance is better, productivity will also improve to fit the new working week.
Results so far are relatively positive. For example, of the firms that have employed the 4-day week in the UK, 62% state that employees now call in sick less often.

Are There Disadvantages?
While there are obvious advantages to a 4-day week when it comes to better work-life balance, there are also going to be some disadvantages.
A study in the USA found that a 4-day week did indeed reduce environmental impact and make the lives of employees better. But there was a trade-off in overall lower customer satisfaction where users of a service were not able to access help on certain days.
Businesses that depend on providing services 7 days a week could find it difficult to manage their workforces effectively. That could lead to increased costs, for example, in taking on extra staff to cover shifts. In Sweden, this was the case in a trial offering nurses a 4-day week, even though staff morale was improved.

What About Smaller Businesses?
There are the same disadvantages for smaller businesses when it comes to 4-day working. If you hire workspaces rather than own your office, then you can save money by reducing the number of days that you need that space. But a lot will depend on the type of business your run, how it is managed and who your customers are. Hiring extra staff is often not going to be financially sound if you have a limited budget and resources.

While it has obvious advantages for health and wellbeing, there are still quite a lot of unanswered questions about working a 4 day week. Some organisations will find it relatively easy, others will have to weigh the costs of potentially losing customers or having to dip into their budgets and hire extra staff. In the end, it may be that some businesses will be able to adopt it while others will have to stay with a more traditional approach.