News & Analysis

4-Day Work Week: Brits Love it! 

An experiment that took off post the pandemic appears to have worked well in the UK with 92% of the companies that tried it now sticking with it

At a time when the Indian IT industry is battling the work-from-home demand and grudgingly agreeing to a hybrid work pattern, some companies in the UK that experimented with a 4-day work week are now planning to stick with the innovation. And they claim there are a variety of reasons for doing it. 

Of course, before going into this debate, it would be worth mentioning that the longer working hours were necessitated during the two World Wars of the past century. US car maker Ford had brought in a 40-hour week post the War, but instead of reverting back to the original 35-hours, other companies caught on and made longer working weeks the norm. 

Longer week doesn’t mean better work

This, in spite of several studies claiming over the past several decades that a longer working week didn’t translate into higher productivity. Surveys have indicated that longer hours cause mental and physical fatigue that lasts the whole of the next day, thus severely reducing their productivity. And this cycle keeps repeating till the worker slows down, makes errors etc. 

There is also the question of the worker’s role and position in a work cycle. For example a restaurant delivery truck cannot deliver more food than there are orders. A sales agent needs to wait for their client schedules, a delivery truck driver needs to wait till the loading and unloading happens. At all these times, longer hours do not guarantee higher productivity. 

Moreover, research has also shown that since it is virtually impossible for managers to monitor their workers at all times of the day to make sure they’ve their noses to the grindstone, employees tend to stay back late for work that could’ve been finished earlier. Also, some may stay put at their desks to get the nod from their bosses on their way home. 

In all these cases, the obvious solution is to get the employees to get off the shift early as the earlier they reach home and unwind, the better prepared they would be the next day. Moreover, such a move frees them up from having to keep appearances. Even a hybrid work culture that has come into prevalence in recent times, tends to improve productivity. 

What happened to Keynes’ 15-hour week?

Which is where the four-day weeks are becoming prominent. Microsoft Japan initiated this some time back and now several companies in the UK experimented with the same idea. In fact, the increasing work week flew in the face of economist John Maynard Keynes’ prediction that tech advancements will eventually result in a 15-hour work week. 

The world may take some more time to move into what is currently a Utopian idea, the field trials in the UK from June to December last year has caused expectations to rise. The trial saw 61 companies with 2900 workers adopt a 4-day week with 100% in pay for 80% of the time and a total commitment to delivering 100% of the weekly output. 

The outcome of this trial is definitely looking good as 92% of the organizations said they would continue with the 4-day week with a further 4% leaning towards such a move. Barely 4% said this idea didn’t work and they would be reverting back to their original work week. However, 90% of the employees were in favor of a 4-day week. 

There are enough reasons for it to work

Now coming to the reasons for companies agreeing to continue with this shift, the first was a 1.4% spike in revenues during the trial compared to similar timeframes from previous years. The companies reported an average 35% hike in revenues, which obviously indicated that the employee commitments towards delivering 100% output did work out. 

Another factor was that the number of staff members moving away from the company fell by a whopping 57% with more than half the total workers reporting that they personally felt that their productivity was up. Another 15% said that going forward, they would not accept a return to five-day week if promised more money in the same or in their next job. 

However, it also came out that the 4-day week may not work for some industries such as some key roles in the manufacturing sector or in the services business as well as customer-facing roles across industries. Another challenge is that the switch to a shorter work week requires massive commitment from the entirety of the workforce. 

The researchers led by Professor Juliet Schor of Boston College pointed out that such a shift could lead to stress, burnout, disconnect and early stage scheduling conflicts. Moreover, companies need to choose what works best for them – reduced hours every day for all staff, an extra off on Mondays or Fridays for some teams or a standard 4-day work week. 

Reports are suggesting that close on the heels of these British companies, several entities in Australia too have expressed eagerness to make the shift. In fact, the Australian government itself came to the fore with a recommendation that they undertake a 4-day week trial based on the 100:80:100 model across diverse sectors and geographies. 

Maybe, John Maynard Keynes is making more sense to people now. Especially those that went through the pandemic and emerged with higher productivity levels. 

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