Four Day Work Week: Pros, Cons, and Costs for Employers - Startups.co.uk (2024)

For decades, the four day work week was a fringe topic in human resources; signalling a nice-to-have idea of what the future world of work might look like.

The success of the world’s largest four day work week trial has changed things considerably. Critics who had derided the working style as impractical were silenced, as employers announced upgrades to everything from output to employee wellbeing.

Now, a 2022 CIPD employer survey found that 34% of respondents think the four day ‘fad’ will be a reality for most UK workers in the next ten years.

Still, even the most ardent supporters agree this working model is a tough code to crack. It’s not about cramming more hours into fewer days – practitioners must take proper consideration and education into how to be more economical with their daily working hours.

Below, we explain what a four day week is and how it works. We’ll go through the advantages and disadvantages, and decipher whether it’s a viable policy for your startup.

This article will cover:

  • What is a 4 day work week and how does it work?
  • Four day work week trial: what did they learn?
  • What are the advantages of a four day work week?
  • What are the disadvantages of a four day work week?
  • How to implement a four day work week: guide for employers
  • The four day work week: is it right for my startup business?

What is a 4 day work week and how does it work?

In a four day work week, a full-time employee will work around 28 hours over four days. Essentially, they have a three-day weekend (although firms can name any weekday as their day off).

There are a few misconceptions around the concept which has left some business owners taking the wrong approach. For example, many people don’t realise that a four day work week is not a compressed work schedule where employees work 35 hours over 4 days.

Instead, a four day work week is reduced hours. It is about handing time back for employees to work on their interests or passions – not squashing it into a smaller window.

Four day work week trial: what did they learn?

Post-COVID, as job seekers are increasingly searching for roles that can give them a flexible schedule, companies have begun experimenting with new and creative working methods instead of adhering to the typical 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office schedule. Enter the four day work week trial.

Between June and December 2022, 61 companies comprising around 2,900 workers took part in the world’s largest four-day working week trial to date.

Following the dry run, 56 announced they would continue testing the idea for another trial period, while 18 have confirmed that the policy is a permanent change. Here were their key findings:

Four day work week: the positives

  • Improved employee health and wellbeing: 39% of employees said they felt less stressed
  • Greater work-life balance: 54% said it was easier to balance work with household jobs, while 60% said they found it easier to balance care responsibilities
  • Turnover rate dropped significantly. The number of staff leaving participating companies decreased by 57%
  • 65% reduction in absenteeism (sick leave or personal leave)

Four day work week: the negatives

  • 36% of participants noticed a slight increase in work intensity
  • Firms in less predictable sectors like leisure and hospitality weren’t able to promise a fifth day off
  • Rules were blurred on whether workers could take bank holidays off alongside their fifth day, which created administration challenges

What are the advantages of a four day work week?

Losing an entire day of the week doesn’t sound like a smart decision if you’re not sure what the advantages will be. But when you see this list of the top five reasons to implement a four day week, it will make the business case a lot more convincing..

1. Helps hiring managers to gain a competitive edge

All the evidence shows that offering perks like a four day work week will help businesses attract a higher calibre of staff as the appeal of a four-day working week gathers pace amongst the UK workforce.

We recently reported that 7 in 10 staff members plan to ask their employer about a four day work week in 2023. Forward-thinking firms that adopt this style will be able to attract the best talent, preventing competitors from snapping up qualified candidates.

This is particularly advantageous in today’s scorched hiring landscape. Recruiters are struggling to source appropriate talent. Many firms are exploring alternative ways to fix the worker shortage.

2. Increases efficient for faster scale-up

New firms tend to have smaller teams, savings, and audience size. In those crucial first six months, they must scrimp in order to survive.

Startups spoke with Martin Norbury, business mentor at Advocate Business Services, about how the switch to a four day week might specifically impact startup businesses.

As Norbury explains, small businesses benefit from having a more structured approach to operations. “It forces you to have a plan. It makes businesses act more transparently, have more visibility, and to communicate more effectively.”

In today’s harsh inflationary environment, a four day work week could also bring down staffing costs. A study by Reed.co.uk recently found that a third of UK workers would take a pay cut to work a four day week

3. Prioritises equal opportunity in the workplace

The gender pay gap in the UK is stark. Women are paid around 9.4% less than men, on average, and this number hasn’t changed since 2017.

Most experts agree this is due to household burdens that are predominantly put on women. According to TUC analysis, more than 1.46 million women are unable to work alongside their family commitments, compared to around 230,000 men.

With childcare costs soaring, a four day work week would address this workplace imbalance by giving working mothers an extra day to juggle care and work commitments.

4. Improves employee engagement for retention wins

Four day work weeks help to build a symbiotic relationship between the business and its workforce. If employees feel trusted to stay on top of their workload, and valued by who they work for, they’ll care more about the company’s success.

Keeping staff motivated will also lead to a lower staff turnover rate. Resignations have shot up across every industry as today’s job seekers’ market makes it easy to find alternative employment opportunities.

Research by Reed.co.uk shows that almost one-fifth of Brits (19%) looking to leave their job in 2023 say they’d consider staying in their current role if their employer offered them a four-day work week.

5. Reduces carbon emissions

Net Zero by 2050. It’s now the official government line – and one that small businesses are expected to toe.

Every organisation must play its part in reducing emissions and becoming more sustainably-minded. And what better way to do that than to reduce all operations by 20%?

A shorter working week will mean that employees don’t need to commute as much. Commercial fleets can down tools for the day, and office buildings only have to be in use four days a week. That’s an instant boost to your company’s green reporting.

What are the disadvantages of a four day work week?

Every business owner knows that a change to employment policy cannot be made lightly.

There are few management switches that can be flipped without big ramifications for the entire company – which is why it’s a good idea to know the top three things that can go wrong when designing a four day work week:

1. Misunderstandings might lead to the wrong approach

Unfortunately, many employers still confuse a four day week policy with a compressed hours working style. This can lead to it being wrongly implemented across the business. Likely, to the company’s detriment.

Rather than enjoying all of the fantastic benefits we touched on above, employees who are expected to work 35 hours across 4 days will instead show decreased productivity, engagement, and work-life balance – all of which contribute to heightened stress levels.

Early-stage support to help employees manage the change to their workload is a must. Managers might encourage a ban on meetings over one hour, for example, to help team members free up time.

2. Implementing without employee buy-in might dampen staff morale

Not everyone likes change. We’ve paid a lot of attention to the demand for a four day work week, but there are still plenty of workers who aren’t as keen on the idea.

The transition is a big one for workers to make, and some may prefer to stick to a working pattern they are more familiar with. Whatever the reasons, any decision that has such a direct impact on employees should not be made without their input.

Before choosing to start or continue with a four day week model, organisations should ask for feedback from staff to ensure this is something they really want actioned. Otherwise, you’ll risk bludgeoning employee engagement as staff feel they aren’t being listened to.

3. Customers could be negatively affected

In certain sectors, a four day work week is like promising to double profits: easier said than done. Where a firm offers a round-the-clock service (for example, a restaurant open seven days a week) the need for a full rota of staff will outweigh the benefits of a four day week.

Customers who have come to expect a service won’t take lightly to it suddenly being made unavailable one day a week. Similarly, those in client work need to be available in case of a sudden emergency.

An alternating schedule (where staff take different days off) might be the answer. However, depending on the size of the workforce, hiring enough staff to create slack might prove too costly – yet another reason to trial a four day week before pushing ahead too quickly.

How to implement a four day work week: guide for employers

Popular though the four day week policy might be, it is not easy to implement. Yes, successful adopters can boast about lower costs and a steady rate of production. But, as we’ve outlined above, improper planning could lead to the opposite effect – heightened spending for worsened output.

To avoid this outcome, Norbury stresses that, before a firm moves to a four day working week, it’s important that the owner considers whether it’s actually possible for their business.

“You need to have a starting point, an end point, and a plan on how to get there. Think of it like cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats,” says Norbury. “Decide on how long you want to take to do it, and put the steps in place to reach your goal in that time.”

Here’s a quick, 5-step guide to implementing a four day work week as an employer:

👣Step 1. Decide on a clear set of goals. Consult with senior leadership and define what success looks like at the end of a certain test period. For example, you might clarify that, ‘at the end of six months, our attrition rate will lower by 5%, with no reduction in productivity’.

👣Step 2. Communicate your plan to all team members. Involving staff from the get-go will increase their motivation to run the trial successfully. Check if employees are interested in enacting your plans. Clarify exactly what changes will be made in a clearly laid-out policy.

👣Step 3. Take note of any issues as they arise. This will make it easier for you to remember what, if anything, went wrong and how you approached a solution.

👣Step 4. Ask for employee feedback. Roll out an employee survey to gather people’s thoughts on the trial. Ask them to discuss and suggest alternative ideas for success.

👣Step 5. Ask for customer feedback. If relevant, find a trusted customer or client whose opinion you value. Ask them to provide honest feedback on how the trial impacted them, and whether they would be happy for you to continue it.

4-day work week case study: BakedIn

Four Day Work Week: Pros, Cons, and Costs for Employers - Startups.co.uk (1)

We asked Joe Munns, founder of previous Startups 100 entrant Bakedin, about his experience of introducing a four day week after a successful trial period. Munns cites an uplift in productivity as the biggest win.

“Four day work weeks utilise our factory more effectively,” he explains. “A small crew works Tuesday to Friday, so we can keep our bagging machines running longer when busy. Overtime on Fridays is easier when needed, as opposed to a Saturday or Sunday.”

Another benefit that Munns outlines has been a positive impact on staff satisfaction. This, in turn, has had a marked improvement on recruitment.

“One of our company values is being family focused, so a four day working week gives the team more quality time with friends and family,” he relays. “It’s a great retention tool too. We’re still a young company, so we can’t be the highest payers in our industry. This is a hugely valuable benefit and really boosts loyalty.

Of course, Munns admits that switching to a four day work week is not without its challenges.

“Our customers still need looking after, so we offer overtime for customer support calls,” he says. “Things like vacation calculations including bank holidays that don’t fall on “working” days can get tricky. And simple things like Friday deliveries get complicated.”

So, does Munns have any words of wisdom for startups looking to introduce a four day work week?

“Ask your team if they want it – remember, not everyone will see it as a positive,” he cautions. “If everyone is open minded, you can trial a four day work week and learn a lot about what’s important to you and your team.”

The four day work week: is it right for my startup business?

In today’s challenging small business context, the advantages of a four day work week are certainly compelling. Case studies, such as BakedIn, have demonstrated the benefits, including increased productivity and employee satisfaction.

The caveat? Four day weeks are easier to get wrong than right with several companies are reverting back to the 5 day week. Successful implementation requires careful planning and goal-setting. Engaging employees from the beginning, addressing any issues that arise, and seeking feedback are key.

The good news is, if you’ve read this guide to a four day work week, you’re already further ahead than 99% of rivals.

Ultimately, whether the idea is suitable for a startup business depends on various factors like industry, employee preferences, and objectives. But with open communication, careful consideration of individual circ*mstances, and a willingness to trial, businesses will find their chances of success greatly improved.

Four day work week FAQs

  • What is the best day to take off for a 4-day week?

    What is the best day to take off during a four day week will depend on the employee, the business, and its mode of operation. However, most firms choose to give staff members Friday off, as research shows this is the day where workers are at their least productive.

  • What are the advantages of working 4 days a week?

    The five advantages of a four day work week for companies outlined in this guide are: recruitment and retention wins; improved employee engagement; lower carbon emissions; and more equal workplace opportunities.

  • How many hours can you work in a 4-day week in the UK?

    While many employers mistakenly believe that a four day week means working 37.5 hours across four days, it is actually intended for employees to work reduced hours. That means a typical, full-time staff member will work 28 hours per week.

Four Day Work Week: Pros, Cons, and Costs for Employers - Startups.co.uk (2024)
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