It’s the first full working week after two back-to-back 4-day weeks – thank you Easter Bank Holidays(!) – and I don’t know about you, but I’m already missing that extra day of no alarms and free time. 

The full time, 5-day week has been standard for so long that people seem to just accept it for what it is, and nobody really ever questions why.

That was until COVID happened and the majority of workers got a taste for a more flexible way of working. Whether it’s remote working, flexi-work or compressed hours, there’s been a profound shift in the work-life balance which has benefitted a large majority of workers.

This has lead many to question whether there is room for a shift to a 4-day work week, replacing the age old standard 5-day week that we have grown so used to.

A recent trial (including nearly 3,000 employees across 70 UK organisations) that ran over a six-month period saw employers trying out a 4-day week. The results? Nearly all of the companies that took part have said that they will continue with this new flexible working approach.

Unsurprisingly, many employees in the UK now have grand ideas about how life could be with a 3-day weekend. And who can blame them?

Don’t get me wrong, there is still place in the world for the 5-day week and there probably always will be. At the end of the day, a shorter week isn’t going to suit all job roles or industries. But there’s no denying that a lot of us have had our eyes opened to the benefits of a more flexible approach.

What Exactly is a 4-Day Week?

It is what it says on the tin. Employees would work 4 days out of 7, leaving them with a longer 3-day weekend to enjoy.

Not to be confused with compressed hours, a 4-day work week would essentially see employees decrease their working hours by 20%, taking them down to around 28-30 hours per week rather than the typical 37.5-40 hours – all while retaining the same amount of pay.

In fact, Director of the 4-Day Week Campaign, Joe Ryle, stressed that simply compressing the hours of a normal 5-day week into fewer days would be counterintuitive, and that it isn’t the answer to tackling burnout and stress in employees.

What Would be the Benefits of a 4-Day Week?

Implementing a 4-day work week would provide so many benefits, including:

  • Employees would have more down-time to rest and unwind before returning to work, giving them more time to spend with loved ones and manage personal tasks such as maintaining the home or looking after children.
  • Working fewer hours in a week could reduce burnout and stress, in turn, reducing sick leave amongst staff members.
  • Happier workers would significantly improve morale which would positively impact their productivity levels.
  • A shorter week would help to cut costs from all angles. Where the employer operates from an office and the change means that they close their doors for an extra day each week, overheads will decrease. Likewise, employees will spend less on commuting to and from work.
  • Flexible working is a perk that a lot of job hunters are searching for now, so employers that offer a 4-day work week will likely improve on recruitment and retention.

How Could a 4-Day Week Impact Productivity?

Over a period of 4 years, researchers in Iceland tracked 2.5k employees across a variety of job roles and industries, who reduced their working week from 40 hours to 35 hours. As a result, they found that a 4-day work week with the same pay as a standard 5-day week improved the well-being and productivity of the employees involved in the study.

Why? Discontented staff tend to spend less time on the work they’re hired to do, instead procrastinating on personal tasks, online shopping or playing with their phones. They often tend to distract their co-workers too, which in turn affects the productivity of others in the workplace.

A shorter week is intended to nurture a happier, more fulfilling environment for employees which will allow them to become more focused on their job and get the work done while on the clock.

What are the Disadvantages to Having a 4-Day Week?

With benefits as substantial as reduced business costs, fewer absences and increased productivity, it’s hard to imagine that there would be any downsides to having a 4-day week.

However, there are some disadvantages to consider if thinking about whether this new style of working pattern would be suitable for your business.

It doesn’t suit all industries: Some sectors require a seven-day-a-week presence, which could make a short working week impractical. Examples include emergency services, public transport networks and logistics.

It doesn’t suit all workers: Some employees prefer the structure of a five-day week, and some like working overtime.

It can still increase costs: Some sectors, such as healthcare, require staff to work long shifts. Companies in these areas may have to pay more overtime or draft staff in to make any shortfalls.

Does a 4-Day Week Have a Future in the UK?

There’s a lot to be said about the 4-day work week and the benefits that it could have if it were to be set into motion. Though, whether or not it is the answer does still remain to be seen.

With that being said, while a shorter work week won’t be a one-size-fits all solution, perhaps this new way of thinking is exactly the shift that’s needed in our ever-adapting economy. Only time will tell, but it will certainly be interesting to see whether the 4-day work week has a place in business here in the UK!