Four-day week could boost employee mental wellbeing

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Thirty businesses have recently announced their participation in the UK’s biggest ever four-day week pilot, trialling a 32-hour, four-day working week with no loss in pay from June this year.

Participating organisations range from hospitality to marketing, small businesses to large corporations and covering a total of just under 2,000 employees. Each company will be supported through the pilot to help create the blueprint for future organisations who want to make the transition.

The UK trial will run alongside simultaneous pilot programmes in Ireland, the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand who are also pioneering this future model of work.

But can a four-day week actually benefit both business and employees? The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

Happy, healthy employees make good business. The biggest benefit of a four-day week is that it improves employee wellbeing, mental health and motivation. In 2018–19, 44 per cent of work-related ill health cases were due to depression or anxiety and 54 per cent of lost workdays were because of ill health.

Research from Henley Business School shows that 78 per cent of employers who have implemented a four-day week say their employees are less stressed and 75 per cent say their workers are happier. Employees have a better work–life balance because they can spend more time with friends and family, exercising and taking up new hobbies, so they feel rested and replenished when they return to work.

A four-day week will also boost Britain’s hospitality and tourism industry as people have more leisure time and it will help people forge stronger community ties through volunteering and outreach work. The Women’s Budget Group found that a reduced work week could help distribute paid and unpaid work more evenly between opposite-sex couples. A four-day week would also help make full-time employment more accessible for people with additional caring responsibilities.

‘No negative impact’ on employee productivity

Atom Bank is the biggest UK employer to move to a four-day week so far with over 430 employees. After a trial and review by the company found that a four-day week has no negative impact on customer satisfaction or employee productivity, they made the change permanent.

Grace Robinson, Member of the 4 Day Week CampaignGrace Robinson, Member of the 4 Day Week Campaign

Working hours do not equate to worker productivity, according to research by the think tank Autonomy. In fact, the UK has the lowest productivity compared with our European counterparts, despite working the longest hours. Numerous studies have shown that working fewer hours even boosts productivity.

Henley Business School estimates business savings at £92 billion a year through reduced staff sickness and improved productivity. As Atom Bank’s chief executive, Mark Mullen, said: “If you can do things as effectively over four days as over five, why be dogmatic?”

A four-day week has environmental benefits too. Research by environmental organisation Platform London calculated that implementing a four-day, 32-hour working week would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year by 2025, which is equivalent to taking 27 million cars off the road – approximately the UK’s entire car fleet. This means that a shorter working week is a great way for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

The 4 Day Week Campaign has more than 65 accredited organisations in our network who have already made the switch. Iceland’s trial of a shorter working week between 2015 and 2019 across the public sector was a widespread success, with 86 per cent of the country’s working population now either having a reduced work week or the right to reduce their work hours. So the prospect of a four-day week for everyone is not as far off as you might imagine.

The 4 Day Week Campaign aims to make a maximum 32-hour working week enshrined in UK law.The 4 Day Week Campaign aims to make a maximum 32-hour working week enshrined in UK law.

The 4 Day Week Campaign aims to make a maximum 32-hour working week enshrined in UK law. The popularity and success of the current pilot programme will be important in achieving this goal.

Effectively implementing a four-day week requires coordination, communication and trust between employers and employees. Henley Business School recommends organisations start slowly by trialling a four-day week in a particular department or division to test the waters, with clear communication with the rest of the business on the outcome to assist a wider rollout.

It’s important to plan and prepare for the transition to ensure adequate staffing across the company’s business days and to maintain employee trust and morale. The Women’s Budget Group recommends a flexible, participatory approach so the needs of each department and employee are met. 

The four-day week is gaining momentum and popularity because the benefits are clear: well-rested, happier employees are safer, more productive and reliable. It’s time to ditch the traditional five-day week working model because it is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. A four-day week is the future of our economy.

Grace Robinson is a member of the 4 Day Week Campaign

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