With many businesses looking to battle employee burnout and stagnating productivity, the buzz around introducing 4-day working weeks has been gathering pace.

It was helped by the launch of a coordinated six-month trial of the initiative that took place in June 2022, where employees working for participating firms in the UK received 100% of their pay for 80% of the time. In exchange, staff were expected to maintain the same level productivity on the reduced hours.

The 4-day working week: key considerations for HR Cezanne HR Blog

Fast forward to the 2nd quarter of 2023, and it seems the trial was largely successful: with all but five of the 61 companies that took part in the trial confirming they planned to continue with the shorter working week after employee satisfaction improved, feelings of stress and burnout dropped, and revenue broadly remained steady.

So, it’s official: reducing the number of days employees work is the way forward. Organisations and their HR teams should look to switch to 4-day working weeks as a priority, and enjoy a whole host of brilliant benefits… right?

Of course, all those benefits sound great in principle. And, after all, who wouldn’t want to gain an extra day off work without sacrificing any of their annual salary? However, rolling out a 4-day working week isn’t a magic bullet that can solve low productivity, or stop your staff feeling burnt out or stressed.

Not a one-size-fits-all solution

The first big stumbling block is the fact there are organisations that’ll require a seven-day-a-week presence: such as public transport networks, logistics, retail companies and emergency services. For them, 4-day working weeks simply wouldn’t be viable, or would require employees to take up extra shifts or overtime – a potentially costly solution.

The second is that, although the number of days being worked would be reduced, the number of hours worked in those days would almost certainly have to be increased for many businesses.

Working only 4 days a week might sound attractive as a concept, but it could result in packed days to make up for the extra day off: with more meetings, denser workloads and longer working hours within those 4 days. This could lead to increased instances of burnout and stress amongst employees and damaged productivity – the very problems the whole initiative is meant to avoid.

That all puts businesses and their HR teams in something of a quandary. There clearly appears to be merit in allowing employees an extra day of rest and ditching the traditional Monday-Friday routine; however, it can also be a logistical nightmare to maintain, not suitable for all businesses, and can potentially cause the very problems it aims to remedy.

With all that in mind, if your business has been thinking about trialling a 4-day working week, here are some important points for you and your HR team to consider…

Involve your workforce from day 1

Before you look to plan any workforce-based initiatives, look to involve your employees from the very start: this will give you an indication as to whether there’s any genuine interest in the idea. For example, you could initiate a pulse survey to see if the introduction of a 4-day working week would be beneficial to the business and your workforce. Simple yes or no questions you could ask your employees could include:

  • I believe shifting to a 4-day working week would be beneficial to my health and wellbeing
  • I believe shifting to a 4-day working week would improve our company’s productivity
  • I would be happy working condensed hours instead of a five-day working week

You could then include a follow-up free field question that allows your employees to explain their answers. The information you receive from your pulse survey will be vital in helping you decide whether the initiative would be genuinely valued, or just a white elephant.

Be clear to your employees as to what a 4-day working week involves

If your employees have shown an interest in a potential shift to a 4-day working week, be clear about what it will actually mean for them. For instance, will it involve condensing their current working hours to account for the missing day? If so, what hours will employees be expected to work? If your workforce is primarily based at a shared workspace, how many days per week will you need your staff to be in your place of work? Will employee days off be staggered?

All those questions will need to be answered and shared with your workforce. When your employees are clear as to what would be involved in a 4-day week, they can then manage their own expectations of it accordingly and decide whether it’s right for them.

Consider whether customer satisfaction could be impacted

Consumers can be an impatient bunch. For example, a report by Hubspot found that 82% of them expect a customer service response from suppliers within 10 minutes! If your customers are used to a prompt five-day service from your business, they may not take kindly to a reduced level of service on certain days. So, before you implement any change in working patterns, consider how your business will fulfil its customer obligations during a reduced working week.

Investigate whether automation could help

If there’s genuine interest in switching to a 4-day week, think about whether there are any changes that could be made to facilitate productivity over a shorter working week. Automating the more menial, repetitive tasks in your business can help your employees dedicate their time to more stimulating and fulfilling roles, but still support vital productivity.

For example, HR’s time can often be taken up by manual paper-based processes, such as needing to print out, complete and review performance management forms, and manage holiday requests or timesheets. Thankfully, good HR software platforms can automate much of this time-consuming administration, making it easier for HR teams to focus on more strategic projects and use their time more efficiently – perfect for supporting 4-day working week initiatives.

Use your HR data to help you investigate whether the initiative is a success

Lastly, if you do decide to trial a 4-day working week, use your HR data to help identify whether it has been beneficial to your organisation. For instance, if you have HR software that includes deep-dive analytical tools, you could use it to look for patterns in your unplanned absence or sickness levels during the trial. This would indicate any change to the health and wellbeing of your workforce, and confirm – or disprove – whether the change in working pattern is having a positive effect.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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