Will UK employers see an increase in the number of requests for a four-day working week?

The six-month trial of a four-day workweek with full pay has concluded, and the results are overwhelmingly favorable: 56 of the 61 participating enterprises will maintain the arrangement for their employees, and 18 have permanently changed to a four-day workweek.

Despite the fact that the trial was created around a four-day week in recognition of the different needs of companies depending on their size, industry, etc., organizations participating in the trial were not required to rigidly follow a certain type of working reduction or four-day week model. The two most crucial requirements were that employees’ pay remains at 100% and that they experience a “meaningful” decrease in work hours (i.e., the structure of the workweek was up to them).

The fact that this plan has been enthusiastically embraced is not surprising given that most workers are keen to benefit from a three-day weekend, improved wellbeing, and work-life balance. Employees reported feeling happier and healthier, and their output either increased or stayed the same, according to the pilot’s results.

Would a four-day workweek soon become standard?

A measure proposed by Labour MP Peter Dowd is currently up for debate in the House of Commons. The law would cut the maximum workweek from 48 to 32 hours, with any excess hours worked being rewarded at 1.5 times the employee’s hourly rate, if it were to pass.

Even though the provision for mandatory overtime compensation appears unlikely to be approved, it would be fascinating to see whether the anticipated reduction in the maximum working week will advance given the results of the trial and the growing emotion music around the concept of a four-day week.

From the perspective of the employer, implementing this concept could benefit from stable, or even improved, productivity. Four-day workweeks may help in hiring new employees and have a positive reputational impact in the market given that workers are searching for more flexibility to improve work-life balance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to this, staff retention may rise if they are more motivated and engaged. The study found that the number of employees leaving the trial’s participating organisations had decreased by 57%.

Male trial participants spent more time caring for children than female trial participants due to the study’s greater work-life balance, which emphasises the potential advantages of a four-day workweek for gender equality.

Despite this, it is clear that some companies, like the NHS, which require 24-hour care, might not be able to support a four-day workweek. A four-day workweek may not be feasible for all client-facing positions in financial and professional services firms to maintain service standards and meet client expectations. Alternative four-day workweek structures or job-sharing, according to proponents, might make this process simpler.

Concerns for the four-day work week

Employers may worry about what areas of corporate operations may need to be scaled back to accommodate a four-day workweek. the frequency or length of internal catch-ups, brainstorming sessions, or meetings, for example. Managing client and consumer expectations will be essential. Others question whether the four-day workweek will ever be adopted and whether workers will be required to report to work on the fifth day, which may result in job overload. Additionally, it’s possible that employees who try to fit five days’ worth of work into four may become more stressed out and possibly burn out, which will reduce their productivity. However, it doesn’t seem that happened based on the outcomes of this trial.

Finally, while deciding on holiday compensation and part-time employees, companies who want to implement the four-day workweek must be cautious. Employers may need to modify their holiday pay policies because shorter workweeks may affect employees’ right to paid holidays. Companies may have trouble telling the difference between new part-time workers who put in a four-day workweek for 20% less pay and current part-time workers who get paid full time under the premise of 100% output. There may also be a risk of potential discrimination claims if current part-time employees are not given the opportunity to take part in a new four-day workweek initiative implemented by the company, especially given that the majority of those already working part-time tend to be women with children or those with disabilities.

We anticipate an increase in requests for flexible scheduling from workers who wish to work a four-day week and feel empowered by the trial’s findings, regardless of whether the rule limiting the maximum workweek is amended. Employers are required to carefully consider such requests in accordance with the appropriate flexible working laws and taking into account any potential implications such an arrangement may have on their business. Any agreed-upon modification to terms and conditions of employment must take into account a trial period (clearly stating that it may not result in a permanent change) or a “get out clause” in order for enterprises to be able to convert back to a five-day workweek if necessary.

Future of flexible working and a four-day week

In this area of growing employment law, it will be interesting to see how much the four-day week campaign can influence employee views and employers’ working practices.

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