Will the UK introduce a four-day working week?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased support among workers for a four-day working week with no loss of pay. According to research by the CIPD, a third of businesses expect the four-day week to become a reality within the next 10 years. 70% of employees questioned thought a shorter work week would enhance their quality of life, and more than 66% of people said that having more control of their work schedule would benefit their mental health. So, the question remains, will the UK introduce a four-day working week?

Collecting the data on a four-day working week

The UK is taking part in the biggest ever experiment of a four-day week, with 73 companies and over 3,300 workers trialling a four-day week. At the half-way point, 9 in 10 companies participating fed back that they had a positive experience and 86% of employers said they were likely to continue with a four-day week once the trial ends. MPs are due to discuss a new bill to implement a four-day working week, which has been submitted by MP Peter Dowd.

The ongoing trial runs a 100:80:100 model, that is 100% of pay for 80% time, with a commitment to maintain 100% productivity as opposed to a compressed work schedule, whereby employees work 35 hours or more over four days. Such compressed work schedules are also seeing an increase in popularity.  

Companies partaking in the trial have said that moving to a four-day working week has made a huge difference when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. Given the current difficulties many companies are having when it comes to hiring, benefits like this could be invaluable in retaining staff. 

This year’s CIPD Good Work Index found that one in five workers were considering leaving their jobs within the next year, with 24% seeking a better work life balance. Burnout is also a significant issue, with one in four women struggling to manage stress levels at work according to Mental Health UK. It is not surprising that reducing work hours is an appealing prospect to workers struggling with such issues. 

What do you need to consider if you are interested in implementing a four-day working week?

Firstly, employers may need to alter the terms and conditions of employees who will be subject to amended working patterns. They will need to seek consent from the relevant employees before making any change. Employers should ensure that they are not committing to a four-day week on a permanent basis until they can be confident it will work for their business. It is also important to make it clear to new hires that they may be required to subsequently increase to five days a week should the trial be unsuccessful, and this should be clearly set out in a contract of employment. 

Employers would also need to revise any policies to account for any change. For example, it may be beneficial to increase employee monitoring to ensure the requisite levels of productivity and privacy policies will need to be broad enough to cover any enhanced monitoring.

There is also a risk that employees will use their additional day off to undertake voluntary or other work. Employers need to be careful to monitor working time and ensure that the employee is aware of any exclusivity or confidentiality clauses in their contract.

Generally, employers will have seen that the tide is moving towards a far more flexible way of working and an expectation of more imaginative ways of working is emerging. This needs to be balanced against the needs of the employer’s business and productivity. It will be interesting to see what the result of this experiment is. We will keep you posted.

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