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Will a Four-Day Week Make us Happier, Healthier and More Productive?

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By Robert Lloyd Griffiths OBE,

Director for Wales,  

ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)

 

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For many people, working patterns have  changed since the arrival of Covid-19 in March 2020. Now, more than two years on from the first lookdown, many organisations are thinking about what the future of work looks like.

The reality is that many are questioning if the 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is what works for today’s workers. But will a four-day week – with no loss of pay – really make us happier, healthier and more productive or will we just have less time to do the same amount of work?

Companies across the globe have trialled four-day working weeks, many with positive results. Now, in the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, a six-month pilot scheme is under way.

In the UK, more than 3,000 people are taking part in the biggest-ever trial of a four-day week in the world. The trial runs until December, and has been organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy.

Housing association Merthyr Valleys is one of the 70 UK companies taking part in the trial, which will see all 225 of their employees work fewer hours for the same pay. The aim is to gather data on how the system works in all sorts of businesses in order to encourage more employers to offer a shorter working week.

Marcus Powell, chair of the democratic body which represents employees and residents of the housing association to the board, told BBC Wales that he believed the opportunity was “life changing”.

The principle is the 100:80:100 model – 100% pay for 80% of the time, but with 100% (at least) of the productivity. However, there are some key questions businesses should ask themselves before making a change.

Clear boundaries are needed with robust policies so that expectations can be managed. Work-life balance is key to a happier, potentially more productive workforce. And while a four-day week certainly offers more ‘you’ time, there is a possibility that staff may feel extra pressure to get everything done within the reduced hours, which could lead to increased stress, burnout and reduced quality of work.

Employers need to monitor any changes and provide options if new working arrangements do not suit  some employees. Ultimately, it’s about building a culture of flexibility that works for everyone, especially with employee well-being in mind.

Only time will tell whether a four-day week is here to stay but ultimately it is about doing what is right for your business and your people.