The Four-Day Working Week

Written by Neil Westwater

How Did Weekends Start?

Considering a four-day working week for your business? 100 years ago it was likely that you only had one day off (if you were lucky).

When did weekends become a thing? Dependent on which country you live in the general rules of thumb around how weekends came into existence are the same. In 19th Century Britain, Saint Monday (Sunday) was a holy day where no one was expected to work, but many took the opportunity to enjoy their Saturday evenings and into Sunday which made Monday a very difficult day.

Productivity dropped in the factories as this became the norm so employers decided to extended the weekend to a half day Saturday, which was popular with workers, decreased absence and satisfied the unions.

In the US Sunday was a holy day for Christians and no one worked, in 1908 employers began to recognise that they should consider the Jewish holy day Shabbat (Sabbath) which started Friday at midnight through to Saturday midnight. With Henry Ford introducing a full Saturday and Sunday off for all workers in 1926 and a limited 40-hour week, thus allowing more time to spend money on consumer goods and keep cash circulating through the economy, a move officially adopted by the US to counter the unemployment caused by the Great Depression in 1932.

The Four-Day Working Week: How Does It Work?Cambridge University Four Day Working Week study results

In a trial conducted between June and December of 2022, 61 companies across the UK took a leap into the world of the four-day workweek. The results were impressive, with 92% of employers choosing to stick with this new approach. This surge in popularity has sparked interest across various industries in the UK, prompting many to contemplate the switch.

What is it?

In a nutshell: businesses transition from a five-day workweek to a four-day one. This allows companies to choose their operational days, typically excluding weekends. This means employees get an extra day off without it being deducted from their leave.

While the idea is easy to grasp, putting it into practice can be a bit more complex.

Approaches to the Four-Day Workweek

There are many ways to approach a four-day working week, which gives businesses with varying operational times or business models more flexibility. Have a look to see what might fit best for you:

  1. Staggered: Ideal for service-based industries like hospitality, this approach utilises a rota to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted service, whilst ensuring days off are distributed fairly.
  2. Annualised: Suited for businesses with seasonal peaks such as restaurants, it involves contracting staff to work an average of 32 hours per week over the year. This means staff can cover the busier periods and rest during the quieter ones.
  3. Fifth-Day Stoppage: This more traditional approach involves shutting down operations for an additional day every week, often referred to as “every Friday off”. It can be implemented in various industries including legal, finance, and more.
  4. Decentralised: Best for large corporations with diverse departments and varying work patterns, allowing them to adopt a hybrid model based on specific business needs such as conditional and annualised four-day week practices.
  5. Conditional: Employees must meet predetermined criteria set by their employers to qualify for the four-day workweek such as hitting a sales target or project deadline. This approach ensures critical business targets are met before implementing the change.

What are the pros and cons of the four-day workweek?

Embracing a four-day workweek can yield a range of benefits.

The Pros

  1. Employees gain more quality time with their families and a clearer separation between work and leisure. 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% reported it easier to combine work with social life.
  2. Studies have shown that over 40% of employees experience improved mental health, with 71% reporting reduced burnout. Levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both improved.
  3. Potential for Increased Productivity: Companies like Microsoft have witnessed a 40% boost in productivity when implementing this model.

While the advantages are compelling, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

The Cons

  1. Not Suitable for Everyone: Some employees may find longer workdays challenging due to family commitments or personal preferences.
  2. Risk of Decreased Productivity: Without proper planning, compressing five days into four could negatively impact productivity levels.
  3. Potential for Increased Stress and Burnout: For employees already stretched thin, condensing their workload may lead to added stress.

The Legal BitWhat legislation applies to the four day working week

While the success stories are compelling, it’s crucial to note that no UK legislation enforces the four-day workweek. Existing laws on maximum working hours, flexible work requests, holiday entitlement, and break times should be taken into account.

Also a key thing to note with any of these models is that to be considered a four-day workweek workers must still be paid at 100%, and you must offer a meaningful reduction in work time.

Implementation Checklist

Considering the switch? Here’s a checklist to guide you:

  • Research and assess the impacts on your business and employees.
  • Develop a robust business case.
  • Clearly communicate your intentions to all stakeholders.
  • Update your policies to align with the new workweek.
  • Ensure HR and payroll processes are equipped to handle changes.
  • Implement a trial period, and monitor the success throughout.

Navigating the Transition

Remember, open communication is key. Address any concerns from your team, ensuring that the shift to a four-day workweek is mutually beneficial. With thoughtful planning and a clear roadmap, this new approach could really benefit the way your business operates.

Need to adjust your payroll to compensate for the four-day working week?

With so much to consider before adopting the four-day working week, you need trusted and compliant software to support you along the way. At Polaris, we offer our customers intuitive cloud-based Workforce Management software that integrates with the payroll software that gets every detail right, meaning your employees feel secure and protected when change happens.

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