Four-day working week: why UK businesses and workers will continue with new work pattern, plus pros and cons

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Employers and employees have spoken about why they chose to adopt a shorter work week after the completion of a trial which saw over 60 firms cut working days for their staff

Employees who work four days a week have spoken about the pros and cons of a shorter working week after a year-long trial of a 32-hour week was hailed a great success.

The six-month trial, which began in June 2022, saw 61 companies implement a four-day week for all of their employees, without cutting down on their pay. Now the trial has come to an end at least 56 companies have said they will continue with the working pattern permanently. The results of the trial has led some to question if this working routine is something that could be rolled out more widely.

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To help answer that question, NationalWorld has spoken to a number of workers who work a four day working week, some who work for organisations and some who are self-employed, and asked them about the pros and cons of their working routine. The owner of one of the company’s who took part in the trial has explained why she will continue with the four-day work routine now the trial is over too.

We’ve also spoken to an expert for their view on just how sustainable a four-day working week really is. We have found that the approach to the four day working week looks a little different for everyone; some actually keep the standard 35.7 full-time working hours but spread them over fewer days while others cut their hours, and some have a midweek day off while others give themselves long weekends.

“A four-day working week can quickly lead to increased pressure on staff”

Expert in workplace wellbeing, Sadie Restorick, said that the subject of the four-day working week is a huge topic of conversation among her clients. Restorick is the co-founder of Wellity Global and works with organisations across the world to improve wellbeing in the workplace. She said that while reducing employee’s working hours has many advantages, there are also challenges and employers need to make careful considerations before making the change.

“Whilst research does demonstrate many benefits, such as improvements in productivity, staff retention, talent attraction and employee stress levels, there are a number of issues to be considered when we are considering the adoption of this model. The focus must be on two-way communication and operational change as opposed to the expectation that workers will suddenly be able to complete their five-day workload with 20% less time,” she said.

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Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing.Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing.
Sadie Restorick, an expert in workplace wellbeing. | Sadie Restorick

“Without careful planning and preparation, transitioning to a four-day working week can quickly lead to increased pressure on staff. Like any organisational change, this change should start with staff consultation. One of the main reasons for this shift is greater employee flexibility, but what does that look like in practice? For example, are all staff agreed on which day will be taken off? There must be consideration of how personal commitments and workloads will be accommodated, how the impact will be evaluated and how “overtime” on the fifth day will be approached.”

She suggested that employers may need to make changes to their employees’ job roles to give greater clarity on what they should prioritise in their reduced hours and also cut down on the amount of time staff spend in meetings to allow proper time for them to complete their workload. It may also be beneficial, she said, for new tools or software to be introduced to help tasks to be completed more efficiently.

“As technology improves efficiency it should create more free time for people”

Louise Verity, owner of Bookishly which creates a variety of literature inspired products and is based in Northampton, decided to take part in the trial to give her 10-strong team more time to spend with their families, do life admin, improve their wellbeing and also save money on things such as fuel. Every week, her team worked Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and had Wednesday off to do what they wished.

Now the trial has finished, she’s decided to make the change permanent for all her staff from April. She said: “We decided to make the change permanent because it’s worked out great. We’re just as efficient, and our team really enjoys the extra time. I really believe it’s the future of work. As technology improves efficiency across industries it should create more free time for people, not just more profit for CEOs. People have been able to do so much more with an extra day off. Parents used Wednesdays for things like shopping and housework so that evenings and weekends could be more focussed on kids. A couple of us used the time for volunteering, one of the team is a musician so used the time for writing and rehearsing and another team member studied in their spare time.”

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Louise Verity, owner of Bookishly.Louise Verity, owner of Bookishly.
Louise Verity, owner of Bookishly. | Louise Verity.

She said that reduced hours did pose potential problems, but teamwork helped to find a way around them. “We had increased efficiency but there was a limit to what’s possible there. We found that we didn’t have as much capacity for major errors. Most things were easy to manage but larger errors would be too difficult for one person to correct in a four-day week. We agreed as a team that if that happened, although it’s very rare, then we would have an all hands on deck situation where everyone helped fix it. We all felt this was preferable to customers having to wait or people having to work extra hours to fix mistakes.”

She added that they chose to have Wednesdays off because this was more practical for her business needs. “We picked Wednesdays as our day to close because if we had created a long weekend, the day after the long weekend we would have had an extra day’s worth of orders to process in one go. This way it’s more spread out. Having two two-day mini weeks is great though. I find myself thinking of Monday and Tuesday tasks and Thursday and Friday tasks. By all having the same day off rather than staggering it no-one has to cover someone else’s role too. If we did that then some people would only be working on their own role three days a week as they covered someone else’s day off.”

“The four day week has worked so well I’m now considering a three day week”

It’s not just companies who took part in the trial who are working a four day week. Mayah Riaz, a celebrity manager who is dubbed as PR-to-the-Stars, has been working a shorter week since February 2021. She decided to take Fridays off after the coronavirus lockdown made her realise that her previous working routine, which often included working until 2am in the morning and through her mealtimes five days a week, was leaving her in danger of suffering a burnout.

She said that in the last year she has become less stressed, much to her surprise, and she has more time to do the things she wants or needs to do - either household chores or spending time with loved ones. She has also found that she’s more focused during her working days, and that she’s been able to give herself distinguished working hours as well as use her apps and tools in more productive ways. She also believes she’s become a better friend because now she has a longer weekend and she has more time to spend with her friends.

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To help her cut back her working hours, Riaz had to employ extra people in her team, give more responsibilities to existing staff members and change some of her working habits. Her personal assistant has taken on more responsibilities and she’s also hired someone to deal with her media and television inquiries, where she previously handled them herself. She has also switched to having meetings via video call which saved valuable time previously spent travelling to in person meetings. Her challenges came when clients expected an instant response and media required a response on a Friday, but she has the flexibility to change her day off if needed to accommodate client’s needs - but crucially she always has the extra day off.

Mayah Riaz, a celebrity manager who is dubbed as PR-to-the-Stars. Photo by Maryanne Scott.Mayah Riaz, a celebrity manager who is dubbed as PR-to-the-Stars. Photo by Maryanne Scott.
Mayah Riaz, a celebrity manager who is dubbed as PR-to-the-Stars. Photo by Maryanne Scott. | Maryanne Scott.

The change in working hours has been so positive for Riaz, in fact, that she is now considering whether she can make her weekend even longer, and also take Mondays off. To be able to do this, she will need to hire another new member of staff as this will allow her to still continue to grow her business and take on more clients. At the same time, she may need to do an hour of work extra a day, but she said it will be worth it if she knows she’s having Mondays off.

“That bank holiday feeling every week is amazing”

One company which adopted the four-day working week model long before the introduction of the trial is London-based Reflect Digital. CEO Becky Simms decided to offer her staff either a Monday or a Friday off work in 2018 - and the work routine has remained the same for the last five years. In contrast to the trial, however, workers at the search agency continue to work the full time 37.5 hours they were doing previously but now they carry them out over fewer days.

“We wanted to challenge the working week and to give our team more time out of work to do what they love. We launched our four day week initially as a trial and put the power with our team to make it work. We gave them lots of ideas and thoughts on guidelines, but ultimately it needed to work for them and our clients and they were best placed to affect this. It was a complete success, very quickly we knew it was here to stay for us. We didn’t cut hours as it would have massively impacted our ability to deliver for our clients and our revenue but we were able to find a way that works for all parties.”

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Becky Simms, CEO of Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren.Becky Simms, CEO of Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren.
Becky Simms, CEO of Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren. | Amy Louise Kolsteren

At Reflex Digital, most staff now work a four day week and then have a three day weekend, but some also work a 4.5 day week, and some have even chosen to remain working the usual five day week. Simms states that it was important to think that working a different number of days a week may work better for some people, and she wanted to allow staff the ability to finish at different times of the day. So, some people work Monday to Thursday 8am to 6.15pm, for example, but some people still work 9am to 5.30pm. Everyone has an hour for their lunch break, no matter what their working pattern.

Simms said that the change has only brought about positives for the staff and company clients. “Productivity definitely increased, no longer were team members feeling the need to do overtime to get their work done, instead, they were able to get everything completed on time and ready to enjoy three days off,” she said. “The team’s happiness was instantaneous, that bank holiday feeling every week is amazing, I love getting to enjoy it as well. The impact on staff wellbeing has also been fantastic, it gives everyone so much more time each week to spend with friends, family, or doing a hobby. It means when they come back to work, they feel fully refreshed from having had three days off.”

The approach to the four-day week at Reflect Digital was so successful that the academics  at the University of Cambridge and the US’s Boston College who carried out the research, and trial coordinators not-for-profit organisation 4 Day Week Global, asked Simms to help with the process. She spoke to those who took part about how her company implemented the new working hours and shared her experiences of what worked well.

“It’s improved my mental health massively”

One Reflect Digital worker, Joanna Earle, says that working four days a week rather than five has been a “game changer” for her. She said: “The four-day working week has allowed me to thrive in my career and my personal life. Yes, I work longer hours but I actually don’t feel like that is an issue for me.  Knowing I am not working on a Friday means I use my time wisely and work smarter and because of that, I’m 100% more productive. I’m no longer feeling the need to do overtime to get my work done, instead, I’m getting everything completed on time and ready to enjoy three days off. I have Fridays off and by Monday I’m more focused and feel a lot more refreshed ready to start the week.

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Joanna Earle, Digital PR and Outreach Lead at Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren.Joanna Earle, Digital PR and Outreach Lead at Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren.
Joanna Earle, Digital PR and Outreach Lead at Reflect Digital. Photo by Amy Louise Kolsteren. | Amy Louise Kolsteren

“It’s allowed me to have a me day too and also focus on the things that matter most to me - my family, friends, my husband. It allows me to go to the gym, go for a run or do a yoga class, pick up my niece from nursery and my nephew from school, and go away for long weekends or take day trips. It’s just given me an overall much better, and healthier, work-life balance and improved my mental health massively.”

She said that the longer working days were harder to adjust to initially, but she quickly adapted. “I think the first few weeks I was super tired and found by Thursday I was ready for my day off on a Friday, but once I got used to it and found a new routine it all clicked.”

“Personal choice and quality time makes flexible working appealing”

The four-day working week model has also been adopted by self-employed people who want to have more work-life balance. Ellen Beardmore, who runs freelance writing and PR business Edit Sheffield, finds that having Thursdays off work helps her to take care of her daughter, Emilia. “Like many parents, I work a four day week primarily for childcare reasons. I have my three-year-old daughter, Emilia, on Thursdays and work the other four days. It works out really well and means I get to spend some precious midweek time with Emilia before she starts school next year.

Ellen Beardmore, who runs freelance writing and PR business Edit Sheffield, with her daughter Emilia.Ellen Beardmore, who runs freelance writing and PR business Edit Sheffield, with her daughter Emilia.
Ellen Beardmore, who runs freelance writing and PR business Edit Sheffield, with her daughter Emilia. | Ellen Beardmore

Beardmore acknowledges that it’s not always easy to step away from work completely on her extra day off, but said she doesn’t let this impact on the time she has with her daughter. “Having my own business means there are times when I have to take important calls or answer emails on a Thursday. Emilia even came to one of the events at an arts festival I was working on last summer - but I do try hard to hold the boundary and usually we are out having fun together on a Thursday.”

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She added that she enjoys the flexibility that she has in her working hours. “I can totally see why people, with or without children, would want a four day week permanently.  It gives you more time to catch up on life admin during the week so you don’t have to spend all weekend doing household chores, and a mental as well as a screen break from work means I’m raring to go again on Fridays. Being self employed means I do work evenings and weekends when it is necessary to hit a deadline or to get a new client, but it’s my choice. I think personal choice and quality time is behind the appeal of more flexible working.”

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