The idea of a four-day workweek has grown in popularity worldwide over the past few years. Despite several studies showing positive results, the UK Government has issued guidance to stop local councils from working four days a week.
We explore the Government’s reasoning to suddenly stop this and compare their views against UK studies on the concept. Additionally, we discuss how a four-day working week is viewed elsewhere and if other countries have adopted it.
Government Demands Local Councils Cease a Four-Day Workweek
On 26 October 2023, the Government Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published guidance concerning a four-day workweek. They explained the guidance was for local authorities in England who’d considered or adopted a four-day week.
Firstly, they made a clear distinction between a four-day working week as opposed to flexible working. The guidance explains that the four-day week model is an organisation-wide approach. In contrast, flexible working entitles individuals to request changes to their work pattern or place and is not covered in this guidance.
Moving on, the Government outlined that they didn’t support local authorities working four days a week. They stated that reducing work capacity by 20% would go against the Best Value Duty under Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999. This is where they deliver local taxpayers’ value for money by continuously improving their function concerning economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
As such, they instructed an immediate halt to four-day workweek practices in any local authority. Local councils who disregarded this advice and showed a decline or failure in service could see further action taken. This included a Government department raising concerns, monitoring them or considering other options.
UK Companies Commit to a Four-Day Workweek
In contrast to the Government’s negative outlook on a four-day workweek, some UK companies have proclaimed their approval. In February 2023, a report was published by the think tank Autonomy and University of Cambridge and Boston College academics.
Their report involved a trial four-day working week over a six-month period with 61 organisations participating. The trial consisted of a “100:80:100 concept”, meaning 100% pay, 80% time worked, and 100% productivity. This means that although the working week is reduced by 20%, pay and productivity should remain the same.
Following the trial, they found that 92% of participating organisations will continue with the concept due to its success. Furthermore, 18 of the organisations said the concept has now become a permanent change in their policy.
The report revealed that companies’ revenue had increased on average by 1.4% during the trial. What’s more, they found that 39% of employees were less stressed, with 71% experiencing decreased burnout. The trial also discovered that employees were 57% less likely to quit and that 65% fewer sick days were taken.
Regarding productivity, this further highlighted the benefits of this working pattern change. On a scale of 0-10 about how productivity had been impacted by the changes, with 10 being the best, the respondent’s average score was 7.5. This means their productivity had been positively impacted.
Therefore, with a slight revenue increase and boosted well-being, the companies and their employees were positively impacted without compromising productivity.
How the World Views the Four-Day Week
The four-day workweek is gaining traction worldwide, with some countries adopting their own version. In 2022, Belgium became the first European country to implement legislation concerning the matter. As such, employees won’t see a pay reduction if they choose to work their contracted hours over a four-day period.
Another country that has been trialling working four days a week is Portugal. Their trial involves 39 companies and follows the 100:80:100 model the UK adopted in their study. Yet, they aren’t the only ones considering the change in work patterns. Amongst those who have already tried it, countries like Canada, the US and Ireland plan to implement something similar.
Therefore, it seems the world is paying more attention to employee welfare and how this can positively impact a company. Furthermore, one might suggest the UK Government’s approach disregards the findings of conducted trials. They emphasise that removing a day from the working week will reduce the capacity of work local authorities can complete.
However, in line with the report’s findings, it could be suggested that switching to a four-day workweek would do the opposite. This is because it could boost employee well-being and retention, reduce the amount of sick days and improve productivity. This means that although there would be less time to work, the efficiency in that time would dramatically increase. As such, it may be the case that the Government needs to revisit their stance on this in the future.
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