Is a 4-day week the future norm?

Could a 4-day week become the new ‘norm’ for employees and help solve the nation’s working challenges? This is the core theme of multiple HR and recruitment news features published within the past fortnight.

Living in the overtime capital

The UK has sadly earned itself the moniker of ‘unpaid overtime capital of Europe.’ The average full-time employee now works around 6.3 hours of unpaid overtime weekly. This amounts to £5,000 per person each year, according to ADP research data.

You could assume this means we’re flying ahead in the productivity stakes, however, the opposite is true. What’s more, our culture of overwork could actually be at the root of this problem.

  • It’s said that the Danes are ‘23.5% more productive per hour,’ despite the fact they work 4 hours less each week.
  • The Republic of Ireland is also 62.7% more productive, yet works less than 40 hours per week. The UK averages 42 hours.
  • Apparently, if changes aren’t made, ‘it would take 63 yearsfor UK employees to receive the same amount of leisure time as the rest of Europe.

Employees call for a 4-day week

Alongside the productivity issues, UK professionals are also feeling increasingly stressed. More than 1 in 3 people feel more stressed than they did just two years ago. The respondents suggest this is due to:

  • Increased workloads (66%)
  • ‘Changing relationships’ at work (30%)
  • Not having control over their work (27%)

On being asked what would help lower their stress levels, the participants said:

  1. A 4-day working week (Almost 1/3: 30%)
  2. Greater management support (25%)
  3. Reduced responsibilities, or other work changes (13%)
  4. Stress management training (6%)
  5. Regular exercise (5%)
  6. Not receiving work emails outside of their contracted hours (5%)

Various views on the 4-day week

It’s suggested that technological advances should make a 4-day working week feasible. Yet some employers and employees have their concerns…

  • Businesses worry about paying the same salaries for reduced workloads and professionals fear that they’ll end up working fewer days yet even longer hours. Others worry that they’ll have to squeeze their existing workloads into a briefer timeframe.
  • Several examples are provided in the above-linked piece. One of which is a Surrey-based trial in which employees will work an extra hour a day in order to shorten their working week to four days/32 hours for full-timers. The workers’ stress levels will be compared at the end of it. It will be interesting to see whether the longer days/shorter weeks outweigh the associated concerns.
  • One German-company has taken a different approach: reducing each working day from eight hours to five. They say this has resulted in reduced stress and improved work-life balance. They have, however, had to implement some practical changes to help employees manage their workloads. This included reevaluating ‘social media usage and finding weekly routines’.

In conclusion…

While it doesn’t appear that 4-day working weeks will become the imminent norm, don’t be surprised if you see more UK employers experimenting with this notion. In the meantime, are there any jobs that more closely match your working priorities? For example, those with reduced commutes or more favourable hours or shifts, flexible working opportunities and other lifestyle benefits.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for future updates regarding this topic/how the Surrey study turns out! As well as sharing such updates via our news feed, you can also follow us over on Twitter, Facebook and/or LinkedIn.