It’s incredible how the world of work has changed over the past couple of years.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, around 5.7% of workers in the UK worked exclusively from home. This rapidly rose to 43.1% in the first lockdown.
Fast forward to 2022, and there are still around 14% of people working exclusively from home, whilst another 24% are now “hybrid working” i.e. a mixture of home working and travelling to work.
Whilst these changes were accelerated by the pandemic, the rapid evolution of technology has been very significant in enabling home working. And it should come as no surprise that it is those who work in technology who are the most likely to work from home full-time.
But the shift to home working – whether full-time or hybrid – also raises other possibilities. Many home workers have found that they can vary their working patterns and achieve a better work-life balance as a result. For example, being able to do school runs, attend daytime appointments, or fit in a mid-morning run, then catch up with work in the evening.
Of course this does depend on the nature of the job you are doing, and it can seem a little unfair for people in different types of jobs not to be able to have this same kind of flexibility. However, a new scheme is under way that could change all that.
Over the next six months, around 70 companies and 3300 employees in the UK are taking part in an experiment to understand the impact of working 4 days a week instead of 5.
The experiment is being coordinated by a nonprofit organisation – 4 Day Week Global – in partnership with researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University, and the UK think tank Autonomy. Similar experiments are being held in Australia and New Zealand, and will start in the US and Canada in October.
During these six months, employees who normally work 5 days a week will work only 4 days, but with no loss in pay. The experiment will analyse how an extra day off affects employees in various areas of their lives and wellbeing, including:
stress and burnout;
job and life satisfaction;
physical and mental health;
In the UK, a wide range of companies are taking part, including software developers, recruitment firms, charities, a brewery and a local fish and chip shop.
But how practical is a four day week? Doesn’t it mean that less work gets done?
Let’s take a look.
The current experiment will shed much more light on the pros and cons of four day working. But other previous experiments – most recently in Iceland – have found the following advantages and disadvantages for both workers and companies that have already tried it.
Working fewer hours can benefit the wellbeing of employees, giving them more energy for family, friends and hobbies.
This increased wellbeing has a positive effect on employees at work, in terms of higher engagement and increased productivity. So, in many cases, just as much work gets done in four days as in five.
A happier work environment and high morale is a major incentive for employees to join and remain with a company, leading to fewer staff shortages.
Commuting for four days rather than five reduces the carbon footprint of employees. And, if a whole business were to close for an extra day a week – which is technically possible for some smaller companies – this effect would be greatly increased.
If you are trying to overhaul your finances, working one less day per week could give you scope to earn additional money another way. This could enable you to settle other financial commitments – such as credit card balances and online loans – more quickly than you had anticipated.
A four day week would not work for many businesses. Some business sectors need some staff to be there 24-7, for example emergency services, public transport, logistics, telecommunications etc. So for these sectors to enable staff to work four days a week instead of five, a completely new shift pattern would need to be established.
If a customer-facing business only operates for four days a week, there may be significant gaps in customer service which could lead to customer dissatisfaction.
A new company-wide working pattern may not suit employees who prefer the traditional five day week. It could also increase costs for the company if they need to use overtime or additional staff to fill any gaps.
So, how about you? Would you like to work a four day week? Keep your ears open as to how the 4 Day Week Global experiment goes and see whether this could be an option for you in future.