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Are four-day working weeks going to be the norm in the UK?

26 March 2024

Campaign group seeking traction for the idea suggest trialling four-day working weeks in August 2024.

The concept of a four-day working week without a reduction in pay is gaining traction in the UK, with the campaign group 4 Day Week urging employers to test the model this August, with the hope that it could run every year. The aim is to demonstrate the four-day working week’s viability and benefits to employers and employees alike.

This initiative follows a pilot conducted in 2023, which involved 3,000 workers across 61 different employers. The pilot was reviewed by the think tank Autonomous in its February 2024 research publication  Making it stick: The UK four-day week pilot one year on in collaboration with 4 Day Week.

The research shows 89% of the participating employers are continuing with the four-day week a year after the trial, with 51% making it a permanent arrangement.
All the managers and CEOs consulted as part of the research agreed that the model was beneficial. They reported improvements in staff well-being, reduced staff turnover, and enhanced recruitment. This was in part evidenced by reports of reduced stress levels and an improved work-life balance, with employees feeling they could make better use of their weekends to rest, pursue hobbies, and spend time with family.

Practical insights

Employers found they had to adapt to the arrangement, finding ways to maintain client service levels and meeting changing demand. This led to a variety of different implementations of the four-day working week. In some cases employers made the day off conditional, for example on targets being met. In others, the day off was unconditional, with various levels of protection against the right being taken away.

To allow for the loss of a day, many organisations reported making improved work efficiencies, such as reducing non-essential meetings. Some employers also found that they needed to provide some flexibility and clear communication with clients to ensure demands and needs were met, though employers did comment that whilst such challenges did arise they were not felt to be insurmountable.

4ugust campaign

Following the research 4 Day Week is seeking to capitalise by campaigning for more employers to trial the arrangement in August 2024, effectively giving staff an extra four days off in August in addition to the Bank Holiday.

Per its website, 4 Day Week argues that this working model can bring about key benefits. These include lower unemployment and underemployment, increased productivity, improved workforce health, reduced gender inequality, and promotion of a more sustainable lifestyle.

These claimed benefits are likely to appeal to UK employers across various sectors.

UK government position

At present the UK government appears happy to let private and third sector employers choose the working week model they prefer. Some advances in flexible working, including making the right for employees to request flexible working a day-one right from 6 April 2024, show a broad support of flexible working arrangements.

However, in certain areas the government is clearly against it. For example, the government does not support four-day working for local government on the basis it does not believe it delivers local taxpayers value for money. Speaking to BBC Radio Cambridge, Simon Hoare MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government) has gone so far as to say that if South Cambridgeshire District Council maintains a current four-day working week arrangement the government will legislate to prevent it. Similar sentiments have been made by Cabinet Office Minister John Glen MP in respect of the Civil Service.

Is a four-day working week inevitable?

An interesting point in the research published is that of members of the public questioned, 58% reportedly believed a four-day working week model would be normalised by 2030.

It is also worth noting that, historically, work patterns have evolved with changing economies and technologies with the current five-day working week model having its roots in the industrial revolution and the prominence of manufacturing work.

The UK economy is very different now, with the emergence of a services economy and different demands and strains on workers. The UK also struggles with poor productivity rates, despite UK workers working longer hours than their European counterparts, compounded by high levels of workplace sick absences. Both contribute to a suboptimal UK economic performance.

The Covid pandemic accelerated flexible working arrangements and shifted attitudes towards commuting and office-based work in the UK and around the world. To adapt, some employers have promoted flexible working with others even going so far as to allow staff to take Friday afternoons off in Summer months to enjoy more time outside with friends and family. There are now also reports of schools exploring new work patterns as a tool to motivate staff.

Sceptics will remain doubtful that productivity levels can be maintained as well as the potential impact on skill development with a four-day week. Yet, technologies like MS Teams, Zoom, cloud-based storage and AI may offset these concerns.

A four-day working week is not inevitable, but there are certainly arguments in its favour. 

How we can help

Wrigleys’ Employment Team want to get to know you and your organisation so that we can do more than simply guide you on the ever-changing landscape of employment law and provide you with the best advice that suits your organisation’s ethos and culture.We know that no two organisations are the same and that their culture is ultimately created by their staff, informed through your interactions with them as employer. This includes how your contracts, policies and procedures are drafted with your ideal culture and behaviours in mind and how you respond to the day-to-day challenges of being an employer.If you would like to know more about how Wrigleys can support your organisation, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

 

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Michael Crowther or any of the employment team on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys employment team on X.

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.

 

 

 

Michael Crowther View Biography

Michael Crowther

Associate
Leeds

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