The Four Day Working Week – a reality or fantasy?

2 December 2019 3 min read
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The work-life balance debate has raged on for many a year now, but probably never more so than now. An increased awareness around employee mental health and wellbeing has once again pushed the debate of a four day week back to the top of the news agenda. 

With the upcoming General Election, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are pushing a nationwide four day week as one of their flagship policies, to much dismay to many in other parties. It is no secret that many businesses simply don’t require as many working hours anymore. The rise of technology and process automation has allowed for this change, and this trend of reduced hours has already been adopted by many in Europe, with The Netherlands and France leading the way. 

But is a four day working week the key to true work-life balance? Does everyone want a three day weekend? And can employees really achieve the same amount of work in four days instead of five? 

A new idea? Not really…

The idea of a four day week is not the new, forward-thinking and employee conscious concept many may think it is. As early as 1930, famous British economist, John Maynard Kenyes predicted a 15-hour working week within 100 years, due to industrial processes becoming increasingly time and cost effective. 

Although the idea of a shorter week has been around for close to 90 years, no country took any action until France in 1998, reducing standard hours from 39 to 35 hours. Since then, The Netherlands have been widely credited with leading the way, with an average work week of 29 hours. Coupled with passing laws in 2000 to protect and promote work-life balance, entitling all workers to fully paid vacation days and maternity and paternity leave. 

Put into practice 

In more recent times, The Perpetual Guardian, an estate management firm in New Zealand, began trialling the shortened week at the end of 2017, aiming to establish both pros and cons of the move. After the initial three month period, the CEO Andrew Barnes reported productivity increases of 20 per cent, a rise in profits and reports of greater employee wellbeing, commenting; “This is an idea whose time has come. We need to get more companies to give it a go. They will be surprised at the improvement in their company, their staff and in their wider community.”

Since then, Microsoft in Japan also made the same move in August this year. The shortened weeks led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and productivity was boosted by 40 per cent.

There is no doubt the idea and implementation of a shorter work week has its clear benefits, including: 

  • Rise in productivity 
  • Better use of time
  • Employee satisfaction 
  • Staff wellbeing 
  • Higher staff retention 
  • Team building and morale 

One size doesn’t fit all

Of course, if the concept of a four day week was all positive we would see companies all over the world making the move. However, that is simply not the case. The obvious one, and the one being thrown at Corbyn and Labour in response to this pledge, is the NHS and healthcare. This move is not for everyone, and it is not as easy as simply shutting the office on a Friday; careful considerations and plans must be made. 

There are of course drawbacks, such as: 

  • Risk of service levels dropping 
  • Not all industries able to participate 
  • Negative economic impact 
  • Un-utilised labour 

Whether a four day week does ever materialise en mass, either as part of government policy or with large numbers of businesses choosing to make the move, each business will need to review its individual way of working and client expectations. 

As a creative agency, we have discussed the possibility of making this move. We believe our staff would thrive given the opportunity, and our clients would continue to see service levels and results exceeded. A business is only as successful as its people and its culture, and we believe the move to a four day week could be the key to true work-life balance.