The four-day work week has come to the UK – for a six-month trial at least.
Run by the 4 Day Week campaign, think tank Autonomy, and researchers from top universities, the scheme will see a group of employees work four-day weeks on full pay to determine whether productivity is higher.
But are we having problems with productivity at work – and do we need to make such a drastic change to achieve it?
Keeping employees happy and industrious during COVID-19 has been challenging. Remote working may have boosted productivity, but burnout has risen amid longer hours and the blurring of work and personal time.
A recent survey by recruiter Hays outlines the risk of remote overworking; it found that 52% reported working longer hours when working remotely than pre-pandemic, with 25% working an extra 10 hours weekly.
If the full-time office life is over, and the water-cooler chat along with it, a four-day week might reduce burnout and boost motivation for both hybrid and remote teams, especially if there’s a longer weekend to both socialise and rest.
Just how productive is our fifth working day anyway? In 2017, Forbes analysed data from the workplace collaboration platform Redbooth that found Monday was the most productive day, with staff completing 20.4% of their tasks. Friday was the least productive with 16.7% of tasks completed.
Beyond statistics, we know that Fridays are far from the most productive day – business practices say it all. In some sectors, Friday lunchtime signifies the end of the week. Among many businesses, allowing for an earlier Friday finish by at least an hour is commonplace.
If Fridays are indeed the worst day for staff productivity, scrapping it in favour of a four-day week shouldn’t be costly if firms are losing money through low output.
But should the shorter week be embraced by UK firms will they expect staff to complete five days’ worth of work in four? If so, they could be as burned out as before, if not more.
Strong intention setting from leadership is needed to ensure that managers don’t pressure staff, or staff pressure themselves to overwork to feel they ‘deserve’ the fifth day off.
We often ignore workplace rules in favour of accepted behaviours – even if they are toxic and bad for wellbeing. Presenteeism, a practice when employees work when unwell despite being entitled to paid sick leave, is one example. Another is routinely working longer hours than mandated in employment contracts, and often when work doesn’t demand it.
These practices render workplace policies designed to protect and support employees redundant – harming productivity and mental wellbeing in the process.
To prevent staff from feeling pressured to work a full working week in four days, organisations must decide on the goalposts; do they want workers to work faster, or will they change strategy?
To make the four-day week ‘work’, leaders must accept that work is never really ‘done.’ Thereafter, the focus on output should be quality over quantity, and it’s up to management to not only lead by example in the way they work but regularly communicate this to staff.
This includes stepping in if they see people reverting to their old ways, or else the cycle of overworking, poor time management and burnout will continue, costing firms in staff absences.
Work shouldn’t be performative but results-driven. If implemented, the four-day week should be about producing the highest quality work possible in that period, not the most.
For those that are nervous about scrapping the fifth day, a strict lunchtime finish on Fridays could be an alternative. They could even deploy teams to work four day weeks on different schedules, ensuring these businesses continue to cover the full five days of the working week.
Firms that are still unsure could conduct an anonymous questionnaire into employee productivity by days of the week – if Friday productivity levels are low to the point that it makes the day redundant, then keeping it would be an example of performance for no purpose.