A four-day work week: the pros and cons

6 mins read
A Four Day Work Week The Pros And Cons

about 2 years ago

​​The past 16 months have given organisations time to consider how they operate, including the number of hours and days they require employees to work.

It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way we work in the UK, with many businesses having to abandon the office to work from home almost overnight. As well as this, over the last year we have seen the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the challenge of juggling home schooling, leaving many employers no choice but to allow for flexible working arrangements.

With this sudden shift to working from home and an increase in hybrid working, we have seen more and more conversations around work-life balance and businesses questioning their ‘typical working week’.

The five-day work week has become a cultural norm, especially in the UK, but after more than a year of change, is it time to rethink this approach and, if we do, would businesses continue to succeed? Or would productivity take a hit?

We asked our LinkedIn followers: “Would you consider changing your company’s working hours to a four-day working week?”. With 919 votes, 50% said yes, but with the same hours, 33% said yes but with reduced hours, 12% said no, and 6% said they would consider it, but not at this time.

With 83% of those surveyed in favour of a four-day week, there are many considerations companies must make when deciding if this is a course of action they would be willing to take.

What is the case for a four-day work week?

A four-day work week can be defined in two ways; the first is when an employee compresses their full-time hours (typically 35 hours) over a four-day period. And the second is reducing an employee’s hours (typically to 28 hours) over four days, so they are then able to have a three-day weekend.

Many argue that, while the five-day work week used to be effective in the 19th century, it no longer suits the needs of the modern-day professional.

With the evolution of technology, some day-to-day tasks are significantly more time-efficient, and with an uplift in office-based roles, we are seeing an argument that longer work hours do not necessarily mean staff are more productive.

Notably, over the last couple of years, many countries across the globe including Japan, New Zealand, Spain - and most recently Iceland - have trialled the four-day work week to research the effect it has on its employees.

Microsoft trialled four-day weeks in its Japanese offices and found the shortened work week led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40%. Similarly, Iceland undertook a trial which monitored employees working reduced hours over a variety of public sector workplaces and found it to be an overall success, with 86% of the country's workforce now on a shorter work week for the same pay.

In an article for the BBC, Will Stronge,  Director of Research at four-day week consultancy Autonomy, said: “It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks - and lessons can be learned for other governments.”

In the UK, many businesses have also trialled the four-day work week, and some have even made the permanent switch. Gloucestershire-based PR agency Radioactive Public Relations trialled a four-day week for six months and found the business was even more profitable and employees’ sickness days were halved.

What are the advantages of a four-day working week?

Large and small-sized companies trialling the concept have created an evidence-base of the benefits a four-day working week could bring to your organisation.

An increase in productivity levels

Research has shown that working fewer hours boosts productivity levels. With employees spending less time at work, they can feel happier and more fulfilled, leading to them focusing on their job when in the workplace.

A large New Zealand business, Perpetual Guardian, trialled a four-day work week and found not only a 20% rise in productivity, but work-life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%.

Environmental and cost-saving benefits

Shortening your working week means that employees do not need to commute as much, reducing their carbon footprint.

As we have seen throughout the pandemic, those businesses with employees working on the same four days can save on overheads and in some cases even be eligible for tax relief.

Happier employees and fewer absences

According to mental health charity Mind, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week in England, and one in five agreed that they have called in sick to avoid work.

Four-day work weeks leave employees more time to focus on personal development or spend time with loved ones. This will not only increase employees’ happiness, but can contribute to fewer burnouts, leaving them to be more focused and happier in their role.

Better recruitment and retention

The increase of hybrid working and remote working during the pandemic has led to employees wanting greater flexibility from their employers.

The CIPD reported that the majority of people think flexible working is positive for their quality of life, and 30% of people think it positively affects their mental health. So, offering potential new and existing employees a flexible working pattern is a fantastic way of attracting and retaining talented professionals.

What are the disadvantages of a four-day working week?

Whilst there are benefits to a four-day work week, there are disadvantages too:

"A four-day work week wouldn’t work practically because of the need to cover more shifts during a time where we are already facing staff shortages."

Not all industries can participate

Unfortunately, the four-day working week model does not suit every sector. Some businesses or professions require a 24/7 presence which would make a shortened work week unpractical and, in some cases, delay work - creating longer lead times.

A nurse who wanted to remain anonymous expressed her reservations about a four-day week in the healthcare sector, saying: “As an A&E nurse a four-day working week wouldn’t work practically for us. Currently, we work long 12+ hour shifts in order to have four days off, which I prefer as it provides more of a work-life balance. However, while I know a four-day working week would be better for some of my colleagues due to childcare, the shorter, more regular shifts we would have to do on a four-day week wouldn’t work. It would mean the need to cover more shifts during a time where we are already facing staff shortages.”

Unutilised labour

A four-day week is not for everyone; some employees prefer the structure of a five-day working week or would prefer to put in more hours than a four-day working week offers.

Likewise, some professions have tasks which simply take more time than others, which would lead to paying more in overtime or drafting in further staff to make up the shortfall (as happened in healthcare for the Icelandic study), which can ultimately become expensive.

Final thoughts: should your business adopt the four-day work week?

Although the shortened work week has taken off in many European countries and been successful for many UK businesses, it is an extreme approach for a company to take and requires a shift in mindset from the employer and employees for it to work effectively, so it may not be for everyone.

While a more flexible approach on working hours is now expected from employees, a less disruptive, more gradual process would be adopting a hybrid or flexible working policy instead.

Likewise, as mentioned above, the four-day model may not work for all sectors. What studies and data have proven is that organisations who are putting more focus on maintaining staff wellbeing, engagement, morale, and productivity are reaping the benefits.​

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Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships
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Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships

The decision to hire interns is not merely a trend, but a strategic must. The opportunities associated with internships can be used to bridge the gap between academic learning and practical application, while also playing a pivotal role in shaping the careers of aspiring professionals.

Towards the end of 2023, Google searches for ‘internships’ increased by 22% to 6,000 searches per month, while the social media platform, TikTok, saw four million views for the hashtag #internships, as more and more students look for opportunities to increase their work experience.

For businesses, investing in paid internships is a strategic move that goes beyond fulfilling corporate social responsibility. It's an investment in the future workforce, creating a talent pool that may later become full-time employees. According to the 2022 Student Recruitment Survey by the Institute of Student Employers, 82% of respondents reported that they recruit interns – showing that internships shouldn’t just be viewed as a gesture of goodwill, but play a pivotal role in recognizing talent, promoting diversity, and contributing to overall business success.

Managed well, an internship can be a viable recruitment option for an organization. But what are the main reasons why businesses should consider running an internship program?

Talent development

Businesses can use internship programs as a proactive approach to identifying and nurturing professionals for their talent pool. They can create direct connections with emerging talent, providing them with first-hand experience in their respective industries – from engineering and technology to sales and procurement.

With skills shortages affecting a large number of sectors, employers that provide a platform for eager individuals to gain paid experience, help ease the pressures many businesses – and professionals – are facing.

Innovation and fresh perspectives

Interns can inject new and exciting perspectives and ideas into the workplace, which can see campaigns thrive and strategies become more impactful. By recognizing that diversity fuels creativity, seeking interns who bring unique insights and approaches to problem-solving will help to enhance the overall creativity and adaptability of the organization.

Introducing different perspectives into your workplace provides a fresh take on the business as a whole. Even though interns won't be responsible for creating new policies or planning a strategy, their outside opinion may improve existing practices.

For example, as more workplaces undergo digital transformation the need for a workforce that is comfortable with various technologically advanced tools has never been more important. Asking for an intern’s feedback on your digital presence and consumer-facing collateral can pinpoint where potential improvements can be made and where new business or custom can be identified.

Social responsibility and diversity

Businesses are increasingly investing in corporate social responsibility and the benefits that come with having a diverse workforce.

Running an internship program allows companies to contribute to ongoing social initiatives by providing valuable opportunities to individuals who may face barriers to entry into the workforce. Employers who actively seek out interns from various demographics can demonstrate their commitment to fairness, equality, and social responsibility – heightening their appeal to professionals looking for 'good' companies to work for.

It’s important to maintain a community-focused approach, ensuring you ‘give back’ by offering young talent the opportunity to thrive and succeed in an internship – helping enhance their career prospects and your reputation at the same time.

Brand image enhancement

In a world where reputation means everything, any opportunity to be seen as an employer of choice can be vital to a successful talent acquisition strategy. Internship programs play a pivotal role in shaping the perception of a company among potential new employees, as well as customers and other stakeholders.

Businesses that actively engage in internships can showcase their commitment to investing in professional development, graduate opportunities, and career changes – creating a positive brand image. This in turn attracts people seeking meaningful opportunities for growth and career progression.

Helping the next generation

There’s a bigger picture to internship programs. Many individuals, especially recent graduates, may face challenges when embarking on a new career path. Those lucky enough to win internships will reap the benefits that come from the experience, not just in adding to their CV, but in self-confidence gained from developing knowledge of their chosen profession, all while making valuable contacts.

Internships ultimately improve future employability and give a head start to those keen to learn sought-after skills in their field, whether that’s invoice management and purchasing in accountancy, or content strategies and communication plans in marketing.

Having interns can potentially help to identify future leaders among your junior employees. When overseeing an intern’s day-to-day activities, some junior employees may demonstrate exceptional management and leadership traits. Once these skills have been identified, you may consider investing in these employees further and upskilling them for future leadership opportunities.

Businesses that offer internships are not just investing in short-term support but are strategically building a foundation for long-term success. An internship is still one of the best ways for professionals to gain that all-important work experience, highlighting the importance a robust internship program plays in growing and expanding the workforce.

Looking to hire experienced professionals to join your team? Contact one of our specialist consultants today.

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age
3 mins read

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age

Career changes can help reignite passion for work and are a courageous step at any stage of life. Whatever rung of the corporate ladder an individual has reached, daring to push beyond their comfort zone into a new industry or type of role should be viewed positively by employers. Many workers are looking to fulfil ambitions their original career path couldn’t offer, and after years of experience in a particular sector may be ready to sidestep into something new.

One of the key advantages career changers bring to the table is a wealth of experience gained from diverse industries. Unlike individuals who have followed a linear career trajectory, those who transition between professions bring a multifaceted perspective that can prove invaluable in problem solving, decision-making, and innovation. Their skills and knowledge, acquired over time, can help shape how a team works and even contribute to organisational culture. For example, ex-forces personnel can strengthen communication, discipline, teamwork and leadership in business. 

Here are some other common attributes of those who change their career: 

Resilience

Career changers inherently possess the often-overlooked skills of resilience and adaptability. Navigating the complexities of change, be it industry shifts, new technologies, or different organisational cultures, is second nature to those who have successfully made a career transition.  

This adaptability enhances personal growth and helps employers who rely on teams rolling with operational changes. Resilience under pressure can ultimately save an organisation – whether through an understanding of the nuances of crisis communications or in making board-level decisions.  

Diversity of thought

Career changers, with their varied backgrounds and experiences, inject fresh ideas and approaches to the workplace. This diversity of thought can widen the outlook of a team, influencing new business partnerships, ways of working, as well as cultivating innovation.  

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to business practice, but many leaders in today’s tech-oriented workplaces are relying on the generation most immersed in digital tools and practices to run the show, discounting those with other capabilities and aptitudes.  

Soft skills

Transferable skills learned across different sectors/industries can be highly beneficial in business, but soft skills are invaluable. Our recent research highlights a new focus among employers to prioritise soft skills over experience in the wake of candidate shortages– good news for career changers who have had years to hone expertise in negotiation, influencing and problem solving. 

Organisations should take steps to challenge age-related stereotypes and welcome those seeking new career journeys. Aside from strength of character, their experience may cover everything from public speaking, networking, customer service to management skills.  

How to attract career changers to your organisation

While the benefits of career changers are evident, it is essential to address the prevalent issue of age bias in the hiring process. The majority of career changers will be people with many years of experience behind them – making their perceived ‘fit’ into a team of younger people a potential issue for millennial leaders/hiring managers. 

A more relaxed approach to role requirements in job adverts can capture the interest of a wider range of people – after all, technical skills can be quickly learned but emotional intelligence, the confidence to experiment, and strategic thinking are harder assets to find.  

Promote stories of career changers who’ve made a difference to your organisation – add case studies and videos to your careers site of employees who found their way into their dream role from other industries. Invite them to become employee ambassadors, attending industry and careers events to help with recruitment. 

Most professionals looking for a different challenge are set on doing meaningful work, rather than trying to climb the corporate ladder or embellish their CVs. Someone who shows genuine passion for an industry or role, regardless of experience, could be your best hire this year. 

Looking to hire experienced professionals for your team? Our experts recruit across 20 sectors and are ready to help you find your next perfect hire. Contact one of our specialist consultants today.  

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace
5 mins read

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace

There is no doubt that absenteeism – regular, unplanned staff absences – is bad for business. But what most employers don’t often realize is that the opposite, referred to as presenteeism, can be just as harmful to your workplace.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is often cited as one of the biggest threats to workplace productivity. It is the phenomenon of employees turning up to work when they are not fully fit, either physically or mentally, and thus performing below their optimal level. These individuals are trying to fulfill their jobs, but due to health problems or other circumstances, can’t work at full capacity.

It can have negative consequences for both the individual and the organization, such as reduced productivity, lower quality of work, increased stress, and higher health risks.

There are various factors that cause presenteeism, such as excessive workload, job insecurity, lack of sick leave, or a culture that rewards long hours and discourages taking breaks. Without a clear separation between work and home – further exacerbated by the introduction of hybrid working – professionals may find it difficult to disconnect and set clear boundaries.

This lack of separation can lead to longer working hours, increased workloads, and, most importantly, difficulty in taking breaks or even time off.

How to tackle presenteeism in your workforce

So, how do you spot the signs of presenteeism, and how do you broach the subject tactfully among your workforce? Here are five ways to banish presenteeism for good:

Recognize the symptoms

Employees with health problems, especially those related to mental health, often feel an inability to disclose their feelings to their manager. At the same time, those in managerial positions are rarely trained to effectively support employees who are struggling.

It’s essential that managers are educated to some degree to be able to notice when employees are showing signs of stress or mental health problems. Not only that, managers need to feel confident and equipped to have open and supportive conversations with employees about their health and overall satisfaction levels while at work.

With almost three in five employees saying they would take less time off work if their employer enhanced the health and wellbeing services available to them, this evidence supports the value of reviewing existing policies and practices. Work-life balance, menopause support, and an ‘open-door’ policy all help build a culture that prioritizes people.

Evaluate your well-being policy

Professionals will often still come to work if they are experiencing long wait times for a doctor’s appointment or if they are unable to get an appointment outside of working hours. This not only impacts the recovery time but can also lead to a build-up of stress while waiting to be seen or awaiting the results of a diagnosis. Ill health, such as colds and coughs, can also be quickly spread around the workplace.

A strategic well-being policy that offers appropriate support can help reduce the impact of presenteeism. Programs that promote good mental, physical, financial, and social health can help prevent illnesses and reduce the impact of long-term conditions. Whether it's discounts to be used on fitness equipment, access to yoga classes, or mental well-being initiatives, a clear plan to help employees can lead to a happier and healthier workforce.

Lead by example

If managers go to work when they are ill, their teams are likely to feel they have to do the same. Leaders need to set a good example and stay at home when they are unwell – especially given flexible working policies are now fully implemented.

Presenteeism often occurs when employees feel they can’t afford to take time off due to heavy workloads, upcoming deadlines or not wanting to burden their colleagues with their absence. It’s important that managers know how much work employees have on, so they are able to help manage it.

Holding frequent one-to-ones or team meetings can help highlight if employees are in need of any support – be it with their work or well-being. This should help reduce any work-related stress and promote healthy working practices to those making a return to work after a prolonged absence.

Clear communication of company culture

Clarify with your workforce about where the company stands on employees coming into work ill, also ensuring a sickness reporting procedure is outlined.

Clearly define and communicate your policies, such as sick pay and time off allowances, and allow employees to ask any questions they may have. It’s also important to communicate the impact that unwell employees coming into work can have on fellow employees, customers, and the wider business.

When you’re clear on where the company stands when it comes to illness and working patterns, employees will feel comfortable staying home and recovering when they’re ill – rather than fearing any potential consequences of doing so.

Empower and trust your employees

It’s the people working in organizations that make the difference. They have the ability to grow business, increase engagement, and enhance reputations. By creating positive and supportive work environments, where employees feel they can take time off when needed, presenteeism can be reduced.

By empowering employees in the workplace, leaders can directly enhance their psychological safety – the belief that they can speak up, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more likely to seek help, share ideas, and collaborate with others, which can improve their health and performance.

If presenteeism isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Making appropriate changes to absence policies and aspects of workplace culture will help ensure your workforce is healthier and more motivated. For businesses, an investment in people through good quality employee benefits could be just what workers need to eradicate presenteeism.

If you are searching for a talented professional to join your team, or looking to embark on a new career opportunity, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.