The Four-day Work Week – The Next Big Workplace Trend?
Although the concept of the four-day work week has picked up steam and press coverage in the last few years, the idea has already been implemented in many progressive countries.

Although the concept of the four-day work week has picked up steam and press coverage in the last few years, the idea has already been implemented in many progressive countries. Now, in the UK and US, more and more businesses are signing up to trial the four-day working week (4DWW), with claims that an extra day off increases productivity, wellbeing, efficiency and has a positive impact on sustainability.

As 30 UK companies complete their six-month pilot program and the 4 Day Week Campaign Group separately announced that it had signed up more than 100 companies, can we expect this to become the new normal and the next big workplace trend?

History of the 4DWW

Even as a 2019 global study, dubbed 'The Better Life Index', from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the UK as the 12th worst country in the world for quality of work-life balance, it took a global pandemic - and a collective realignment of societal values -  for the four-day work week to become a serious topic for consideration in the western working world.

While the US and UK have COVID-19 to thank for pushing the four-day work week forward, countries including France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Norway have worked an average of less than 30 hours per week for years, with Iceland studying the idea way back in 2015.  

A study that ran from 2015-2019 was conducted on 2,500 Icelandic workers from a variety of industries including schools, hospitals, social service providers and private businesses, and the results were extremely encouraging. Researchers found that, contrary to popular belief, productivity either remained the same or improved in every single workplace they studied. Thanks to the trial, now over 86% of Iceland’s workers have the right to work shorter hours for the same rate of pay.

Trialling the Four-Day Work Week

A study coordinated by non-profit, 4 Day Week Global, including countries such as the US, UK and Ireland launched a 6-month pilot of a four-day work week in June 2022, seeing firms allow staff to work 32 hours per week with their compensation and benefits unchanged. In November, the results of the global trial were published, revealing that companies who gave their staff an extra day off per week, with no reduction in pay experienced increased revenue alongside reduced absenteeism and resignations.

Workers reported feeling less stressed or burnt out, and reported higher rates of life satisfaction. Findings also show significant declines in the duration and frequency of commuting, plus positive environmental outcomes. Most significantly, none of the participating organisations are returning to a five-day week.

As if that wasn’t enough, the results showed that revenue rose by an average of 38% when compared with the same period in the previous year, and the extra day off was so valuable to workers, 70% say they’d need a 10-50% pay increase to return to 40 hours. 

Impact of the 4DWW on Sustainability

Not only does commuting less have an impact on the environment, a four-day work week has the potential to reduce carbon emissions. According to a recent 2019 study conducted in the UK, working for one less day could reduce emissions by up to 21% by 2025.

From reduced electricity, heating and even cleaning requirements, a shorter working week has the potential to cut down on costs for employers as well as employees. This is a significant benefit considering there has been a 68% increase in the number of companies who have made Net Zero pledges in just two years ago.

Future of the Workplace

As the future of work continues to be re-imagined and attitudes towards flexibility and agility evolve, the four-day work week is set to become one major experience multiplier for businesses that are looking to retain and attract top talent. Hot off the heels of the Great Resignation/Reshuffle, businesses that decide to offer a four-day work week can expect to see a much better return on their recruitment, employee engagement and profitability efforts.

Not only does the four-day work week have tangible benefits for businesses, it indicates that an employer values staff wellbeing and strives to give employees a complete workplace experience. As the younger generation of workers with greater expectations of their employers join the workforce, a company that embraces a four-day work week is more likely to embrace other areas of personal and professional value, such as sustainability, choice, and employee wellbeing – thus attracting top talent to their company.

While workplace trends come and go, as discussed in our Top Workplace Trends for 2023, the four-day work week concept only appears to be gathering steam. With it, new opportunities arise for employers to appreciate, engage and retain their employees, building a company culture that prioritises wellness and better physical or mental health.

In 2023, we expect to see the conversation continue to grow around the four-day work week, as the foundations built over the last few years continue to bear fruit, proving there’s an appetite for better work-life balance. We expect many more employers to decide to rise to the challenge and set themselves apart from their competitors, securing their standing as creating a workplace of the future.