Different ways of working have always been a hot topic of conversation, but since the pandemic there has been a significant shift in our workplace patterns. Achieving a work-life balance, for example, has become a top priority for professionals, prompting people to question the five-day working week and look towards an alternative: the four-day working week.
The UK pilot of a four-day week, carried out from June to December 2022, was a trial that saw no loss in pay for employees working four days instead of five.
Most of the companies that participated have said they will continue with the arrangement, but the question remains: how do people really feel about the four-day work week and are we getting closer to this new trend becoming a reality throughout the world of work?
Historically, the four-day week was thought of as an all too radical adjustment, unlikely to ever become common practice. However, the recent wave of press attention around the four-day week is signalling a rethink of how practices might grow and evolve in the future.
In a bid to discover what people really think of the idea, we conducted a survey in February of over 11,000 professionals and employers and the results are in.
Majority embrace the prospect of a four-day week
The prospect of a four-day working week is regarded very positively.
Those in favour of the four-day week believe better work-life balance, improved gender equity and a reduced carbon footprint are just some of the potential benefits of the change in working pattern, but where do people believe it could have the greatest impact?
Employee mental health and wellbeing is thought to benefit most, with 89% citing it as the area they thought would be most improved by a four-day working week. Perhaps surprisingly, well over half (59%) thought that productivity would benefit, whilst 44% thought a four-day week would have a positive impact on talent attraction and retention.
Overall, the prospect of a four-day working week is regarded very positively – 93% think that it’s a good idea, and almost three quarters (71%) consider it a very good idea.
Provision remains low, but it’s increasingly a consideration
Whilst sentiment around the four-day week is mostly positive, provision remains low, with only 5% of employers currently implementing or trialling this new working pattern. That being said, 17% of employers are considering introducing it, an increase on the proportion who said they were a year ago (9%).
Whilst this is a possible indicator that the success of the recent trial is causing organisations to re-evaluate their working policies, well over half (58%) are not considering introducing a four-day week at all, and 20% are unable to due to their organisation or sector.
Of those who are not introducing it, 53% say this is because they are not prepared from an operational perspective, whilst 46% are concerned about the effect it will have on productivity. For those who have introduced it, operating models vary; 38% of employers say everyone has the same day off, whilst 31% stagger the off-days, so employees are off at different times.
Professionals working four days report positive effects
The majority of people working a four-day week (92%) report a positive impact on their home life and, also optimistically, 84% say it has improved their professional lives.
Nearly two thirds (64%) of professionals say they spend their extra day off on ‘life admin’ such as household chores and appointments, whilst 62% use it for exercise and hobbies and 58% spend it with friends and family.
Over a quarter (26%) use their extra day off for self-development such as learning a new skill, indicating a potentially advantageous angle for employers struggling to source the talent they need.
Notably, almost two thirds (64%) would be tempted to move to a different organisation if it was offering a four-day working week, an increase on last year’s figure (53%), so employers who offer their staff a four-day week could stand in better stead to attract and retain talent in today’s competitive market.
Interestingly, professionals would sacrifice hybrid working in exchange for an extra day off, as just under two thirds (62%) would rather work a four-day week with all days spent in the workplace than a five-day week in a typical hybrid pattern.
Could there be civic benefits?
Though the overall picture is complicated and there are a number of factors to consider, one of the arguments for the four-day working week is the potential impact that the reduced travel involved could have on our climate. Almost a third (31%) of survey respondents acknowledge a reduced carbon footprint as a benefit of the four-day week.
A further 21% say they would spend their extra day volunteering if they worked a four-day week, whilst 14% of those currently working in this pattern already do use it for this purpose.
Looking to the future
Although almost half (46%) of all survey respondents believe the four-day week will become a reality in the next five years, only 5% of organisations have so far implemented it.
Whilst provision of the four-day week remains low, our research shows that people are becoming increasingly open to the possibility. Although 58% of employers said they were not considering implementing a four-day week, 34% said they would be more likely to if staff spent all four days in the workplace.
A year ago, only 65% believed the four-day week would ever happen and this figure that has now gone up to 74%. Although almost half (46%) of all survey respondents believe the four-day week will become a reality in the next five years, only 5% of organisations have so far implemented it.
Whether the world of work is getting closer to the four-day week becoming a widespread reality or not is still up for debate, but the conversation around this model is undoubtedly gaining momentum.