As the pandemic has totally shifted the parameters of working life, there has been much discussion around the idea of implementing a four-day work week. HRreview investigates whether this is a viable option as we move into the future of work.

The concept of shifting to a four-day work week is now being considered by businesses globally, in light of the change in working practices over the past year.

At the start of 2021, Spain announced its intention to trial working only four days a week. Iñigo Errejón of Más País, the leader of the Spanish left-wing party who suggested this idea, stated that this could significantly reduce presenteeism.

Errejón said:

Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better.

It now seems that this idea is also gaining traction with businesses in the UK. Earlier this month, research released by charity Be the Business found that almost a fifth (18 per cent) of UK organisations surveyed are considering shifting to a four-day work week to increase productivity.

Will Stronge, the Director of Research at Autonomy, the company which carried out an analysis of these results, stated that “going for a four-day work week would bring huge benefits to workers’ mental health, which directly feeds into firm performance”.

Most recently, global affiliate network Awin, trialled a four-day working week since January 2021. By April, it was found that the number of staff taking sick leave has fallen by over half (59 per cent), while candidate applications have risen by 12 per cent in this period.

Ian Charlesworth, Regional Managing Director at Awin, commended the trial for reducing staff absence and the “increase in engagement scores suggesting a happy and motivated workforce in general.”

Despite this, there are still reservations from businesses and challenges which could arise.

Will Stronge, aforementioned, stated that some businesses which are in high-labour cost industries could experience cash-flow problems if the scheme was rolled out too quickly.

In addition, with one day less in the working week, staff could end up working more to make up for the missed time. This could ultimately lead to longer hours if regulations around work hours are not put in place. For some workers, this may also cause a rise in stress levels – feeling the need to complete everything in a condensed amount of time.

Others have questioned the rules around holiday entitlement. Breathe HR, for example, have suggested that there will be no change if staff are still expected to work 37.5 hours a week (standard working hours) in just four days.

However, if there is also a reduction in hours to match the decrease in working days, holiday entitlement will need to be adjusted also.

If weekly hours are not decreased, many have suggested that this could make childcare responsibilities more difficult for working parents. This is because longer hours does not largely align with school or nursery timetables, leaving parents to find alternative solutions for childcare after these hours.

Whilst the benefits and the weaknesses of a four-day work week are evident, businesses and employers alike will ultimately need to investigate whether this scheme is compatible with their working model, company and people as a whole.