Can a four-day week really work?

August 23, 2018
by Melissa Porter
table with a leather bound filofax style diary and pink flowers, roses, peonies.

Work-life balance is a term that’s becoming increasingly popular among job seekers and employers alike, and it’s all due to the presence of millennials who are slowly beginning to dominate the workforce.

Experts predict that by 2020, over half the world’s workforce will be made up of millennials (now aged between 21 and 35) and Gen Z (those aged 20 or younger). It’s these generations that are more aware of the effects that the workplace has on mental health, and as a result, they look for better benefits that promote work-life balance such as flexible working and a generous annual leave entitlement.

With this in mind, it may come as no surprise that employers are competing to offer the best work-life balance, with a four-day working week being one option to unlock the ultimate balance between work and life.

The problem with work-life balance

Work related stress is the biggest cause of sick leave in the workplace, costing the economy tens of billions every year. The biggest reason? Time. We just don’t have enough time for anything anymore.

John Ashton, an academic and a former regional director of public health in the northwest, has been encouraging a shorter working week in a bid to improve mental health problems.

He says: “Nowadays, couples are mostly working and there is never enough time. It can be extremely stressful, especially when there are children. No one has any time for themselves — which is vital for balance. There is no time to relax, no time for family and people aren’t volunteering because there is no free time.”

Effects of a four-day week

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand based company that manages wills and estate planning, ran a four-day work week trial back in March 2018 which saw all 200+ employees take one extra day off every week despite being paid the same salary.

The trial, which was studied by two researchers, was a resounding success with reports of a 24% rise in work-life balance and also an increase in productivity.

Jarrod Haar, an HR professor from Auckland University of Technology, found that staff were coming in more energised after their time off, they were more creative, attendance had improved, and staff weren’t taking long breaks or leaving early.

Another company trialling the four-day work week is Gloucester based PR Company Radioactive.

Rich Leigh, Director of Radioactive, says: “How do you get happy clients? Great work. How do you get great work? A happy team. Technology was supposed to give us a better work-life balance. If anything, it’s made it worse.

“We’ve always had shorter days on a Friday and I think now it makes people that bit more focused on the four other days. Ultimately you get better results with a good work-life balance.”

What is the down-side?

Of course, many employees love the sound of getting paid for 5 days a week, only working for 4, and having a 3-day weekend, but there are a few reasons why businesses could be hesitant to implement such an incentive.

Having one day less in the week means that employees still need to complete the same amount of work in a week, in only four days. This “compression” of work may lead working extra hours to make up for the extra time off and even additional stress, which in turn defeats the purpose of implementing benefits to aid work-life balance.

An additional risk is thinking towards the future. Although the study concluded that staff have been more productive with a four-day week, there is also the risk that once the novelty wears off, employers will have to think again of new ways to continuously motivate staff.

It’s apparent that there are many pros and cons to working a four-day work week, but what do you think? Tweet us your thoughts!

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