The idea of a four-day working week is nothing new but it has long been one which belongs to the future. It’s been talked about for decades but an actual decisive change hasn’t happened.
Tests and studies on four-day weeks are growing more common as the idea is taken more seriously but the notion that your boss is going to stride into the office and announce you’ll be working four days instead of five from now on seems a long way off.
Nevertheless it’s an idea which is gaining more traction as time goes on and the evidence appears to support it. Labour would like to implement in the UK if they got into power but is it a change that would work for everyone?
Microsoft made the news recently for the results of a four-day working week test they conducted with their staff in Japan where productivity jumped up by 40 per cent and 92 per cent of employees said they liked the change.
The test gave Microsoft Japan employees five consecutive Fridays off without decreasing pay and over the five weeks they were more productive, took less time off and the office saved plenty of money on their electricity bill.
It’s certainly not the first test of its type and several others in various countries have returned similar findings as the workers involved were far more productive and happy.
A similar test in New Zealand last year found the employees who participated were far less stressed with the extra day off and many studies on adopting a four day working week champion the boost in productivity.
If people can do the same amount of work and get more time off without being paid less while the research indicates it’s also far more healthy then it seems like a no-brainer.
The Counter Claim
However, James Cook of the Daily Telegraph argues switching to working four days a week would be a “disaster”.
He writes that in the long term employees might lose any motivation gained from the “novelty” of having extra time off, leaving businesses with workers who are a fifth less productive and still paid the same.
He also suggests that a four day week isn’t the solution for every area of working life and could have some significant difficulties in the public sector.
Certain jobs are more about the employee in question being available to provide a service to others rather than complete a set amount of work, in the public sector this can be especially true as people need to be on call during the week.
A switch to a four day work week would mean more people would need to be hired, which Cook warns would raise government costs.
Meanwhile, businesses in the private sector which adopt the four day working week will hit similar problems if some of their competitors don’t make the change. If your competitors are trading a day more than you that’s a day they’re using to get ahead.
Research from Henley Business School found that two thirds of UK businesses which tried a four-day working week reported boosts to productivity and a third of business leaders believe making the switch will be an important part of progress in the future.
They also reported that around three quarters of the public back a four-day working week and two thirds of those young enough to just be entering the workforce have said it would be something they considered when applying for jobs.
Seventy-four per cent of British workers think they’d be able to make the switch to four days of work and still complete all the tasks they’d normally have five days to do.
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However, 91 per cent of small business owners have said they would struggle to switch to a four-day week and 82 per cent of businesses are afraid of the consequences of being closed for an extra day.
A report commissioned by Labour into the viability of a four day working week in the UK found that it made people happier and more productive, but the government forcing everyone to make the switch would not be “realistic or even desirable”.
Working four days a week appears to be a very good idea for those businesses that can manage it but it’s not viable for all. Some businesses won’t be able to make the change and forcing them to try would be counterproductive.