EMPLOYMENT LAW

Is the four-day working week coming to the UK?

Many employers are still grappling with different working models and trying to acclimatise to various iterations of hybrid working. Employees are seemingly enjoying their new flexibility, and many are pushing for even more. This has added fuel to the debate over the possibility of a four-day working week coming to the UK, but what would this look like, and realistically, what are the chances of it becoming a viable option for employers here in the UK?

How does a four-day working week work?

As the name suggests, it involves reducing a full-time employee’s working week from five days to four days. This usually involves either compressing the same number of weekly working hours (for example, doing 4×10 hour days rather than 5×8 hour days), or reducing weekly working hours from say 40 to 32 or 35. Where weekly hours are reduced, usually there would be no loss of pay or benefits.

What chance is there of it becoming ‘the norm’ in the UK?

There is currently no firm plan from the UK government to introduce a four-day working week and the companies that have introduced it have done so entirely of their own choosing. The sectors where it has gained traction include fintech, gaming and recruitment.

What is clear is that it will not work for all roles in all sectors. However, for roles which are project based and where workloads or customer demand are relatively easy to predict, it certainly could work.

The not-for-profit community organisation, 4 Day Week Global, is encouraging UK employers to sign up to a six month pilot. Companies participating in the pilot receive training and mentoring from businesses and experts who have experience of successfully implementing a four-day working week. A team of academics and researchers work with participating companies to agree what metrics will be set to measure success. They then measure the impact on productivity to help determine the effectiveness of the pilot for each participating company.

Has it been tried in other countries?

Yes, between 2015 and 2019 a trial was run in Iceland where employees worked fewer hours for the same pay, and in the majority of workplaces, researchers found that productivity remained the same or improved.

Unilever, the consumer goods multinational, trialled a four-day working week for its staff in New Zealand for one year from December 2020 to December 2021. Unilever is working with Sydney’s University of Technology Business School to measure the success of the trial, and the results of that trial are awaited.

The Spanish government has also agreed to a three year trial of a four-day week for companies that want to see if it works for them. Spanish software company Software DELSOL tried it for two years at a cost to them of 420,000 Euros, but they found that absence levels fell by 20% in its first year and sales were growing by 20% year on year since it was first introduced.

As employers continue to fight to attract and retain the best people, and workers increasingly seeing wellbeing as their number one priority, employers must look at all options available to them. Whilst it will not be right for many companies, we do expect to see a growing movement towards a four-day working week model over the coming years, both in the UK and overseas.

About the authors


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Greg Burgess

Partner

Advises on restructures, TUPE, trade union law, dismissal claims, discrimination, harassment and has experience defending Employment Tribunal claims.

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