Four-day workweek: should you believe the hype?

smart young woman | Four-day workweek: should you believe the hype?
By Stephanie Coward | 10th March 2023 | 5 min read

I’m sure we’ve all been there at one point: it’s Sunday evening, you’ve just sat down with a cuppa after a non-stop weekend and the dominating thought is 'I wish I had one more day off'.

Who wouldn’t want a three-day weekend, every weekend, but is a four-day workweek feasible?

Recently, social media has been flooded with debate following the biggest ever trial of a four-day workweek, which was held over six months, with over 2,900 employees at 70 organisations.

Unsurprisingly, the trial led to more questions than answers, with many employers advocating for this change, while others have been left quaking in their boots, worried about the logistics of implementing such an initiative.

What is a four-day workweek?

While it may seem obvious, with the name in the title, a four-day workweek isn’t always as straightforward as it initially seems.

Yes, under a four-day workweek, employees work one less day; however, the four-day workweek doesn’t necessarily remove a day and pay the same.

Often, the four-day workweek is enabled by condensing the typical 40 hours from a Mon-Fri into four days, so while workers have an extra day off, the days they do work are considerably longer.

In other scenarios, a day is taken straight out of the workweek, but the employee is put on a part-time contract and paid only for the four working days.

Sometimes, the fifth day is removed, and a full wage is provided, but this option is typically the rarest out of the three as it requires negotiation between the employer and employee, alongside trust that they can finish all tasks to a high standard in the timeframe.

Making yourself an attractive employer

Offering the option of a four-day workweek can be an important differentiator for employers, particularly when it comes to hard-to-recruit sectors or difficult-to-fill vacancies.

It can make your business much more attractive.

Take the hospitality industry as an example: many employers here have been struggling to source talent for some time, so offering a variation of the four-day workweek could help secure new workers.

Additionally, employers looking to secure a highly desirable candidate could consider offering them a four-day workweek – providing it's feasible in their workplace – as an additional bargaining tool.

Sector, sector, sector

Frankly, the biggest factor to whether a four-day workweek is truly feasible is the sector you operate in.

Areas such as agriculture or customer support require employees to be far more available, so limiting the working days might not be right.

However, in shift-based roles or non-time-specific roles, the hours worked can be played around with.

The four-day workweek isn’t a silver bullet to poor employee engagement

Four-day workweeks make employees more productive... Four-day workweeks improve recruitment and retention... Four-day workweeks increase employee engagement…

These types of headlines have been dominating the HR space recently, but it’s not that simple.

Yes, a four-day workweek can help in many ways, but is it the silver bullet to an unhappy, disengaged workforce? No.

The underlying point we can take away from the recent trial is that flexible working supports happy and productive employees, not the four-days itself.

In fact, over 76% of employees simply want some form of flexible working, not necessarily a four-day workweek.

If an employee has an enormous workload, condensing it or simply removing a day from their working week won’t make them more engaged and productive, but empowering them with flexible hours and the option to work when best suits them most likely will.

If an employee suddenly has an influx of personal responsibilities – perhaps they have a relative who needs support, or they’ve just become a parent – a four-day workweek again won't necessarily help, but allowing them to dip out of the working day and make the time up in the evening or on the weekend may.

Rather than a blanket approach, look to update and implement a modern flexible working policy, which gives employees the freedom to work in a way that benefits both themselves and the business.

As HR professionals and business owners, we need to consider the reasoning of why such a trend may appeal and how some form of it can be implemented in a way that works for our specific business.

What’s right for your people?

Acting on impulse is rarely the correct approach; instead, data-driven decisions is a sure-fire way to make the most impactful choice.

When considering aspects of flexible working, such as a four-day workweek, start by speaking with your people.

Some people may love the idea while others prefer to have five days but with added flexibility regarding their hours.

Ask your people what they want from the workplace and work together to see how it can be best accommodated.

For those looking to streamline the Q&A process, consider using HR software in which you can create and send surveys to your entire workforce, quickly and effectively gaining insights.

Once a consensus is gathered, you can then work with your people to determine how it can be best implemented.

Top tip: whether you choose to implement more radical forms of flexible working like a four-day week, want to give people more freedom in their day with adaptable hours or would rather keep operations standardised, having your HR policies up to date and clear is crucial. HR software enables you to easily store, update and share HR policies, ensuring employees are always informed.

Are we seeing the demise of the office? Could this be the end of the 9-5? There’s no telling where the future of work and HR will take us, but one thing is clear, if feasible, flexibility must be at the forefront of your business.

What else is impacting HR at the moment? In our Unlock Your Power guide, we cover the most pressing HR topics, offering tangible advice for those looking to thrive.