Will a four day working week really make your business better?

In a bid to improve performance, more organisations are trialling shorter weeks.

by Lauren Brown
Last Updated: 30 May 2019

In his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that in 100 years everyone could be working just 15 hours a week. Recent developments could be a step in that direction.

The four-day work week has been billed as the future of work, with several organisations overseas trialling the model. And with London’s Wellcome Trust considering following suit, it could soon become a reality in the UK – for a lucky few, at least.

Reports have suggested the trial could begin in the autumn at the £26bn science research foundation which, it is believed, would make it the biggest organisation in the world to attempt the shift. It would see all 800 of its head office staff working a four-day week with no dock in pay as an attempt to boost productivity and employee wellbeing. It follows recommendations by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), published in September 2018.

A Future that Works for Working People called for unions, employers and government to work together through a new Future of Work Commission, which "should see moving to a four-day week, with no reduction to living standards, as an ambition for the 21st century".

Last October New Zealand-based estate planning service Perpetual Guardian (PG) reported the results of its four-day week trial. Founder Andrew Barnes said there were "no downsides" and that all 240 employees experienced lower stress levels and higher levels of job satisfaction – academic analysis revealed 88 per cent of staff were committed to their work, up from 68 per cent in 2017, and 86 per cent reported feeling empowered compared to 68 per cent before. Following the trial’s success the firm announced it would be adopting the four-day week on a permanent basis.

According to the UK-based think tank the New Economics Foundation, a reduced working week of 21 hours could help address a "range of urgent, interlinked problems", including "overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low wellbeing, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life".

But is it really the catch-all solution to business ills that these results suggest? Schemes such as Perpetual’s may have shown no downsides in the short-term, but businesses at home and overseas will need convincing of the long-term benefits if they are to consider adopting a similar approach themselves.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels


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