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UK 4 Day Week Trial - The Pros and Cons

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Photo: Brooke Cagle 

The UK Four Day Week Trial – The Pros and (not too many) Cons

During the pandemic, we became used to a new way of working. Overnight, our 5 days a week in the office became 5 days a week at home, followed by 2 more days at home. The working day became longer and the division between home life and work became blurred, as many of us whirred away on our laptops into the late evening. But as things shifted and settled and the pandemic came to an end, many of us had become used to a more flexible way of working, allowing us to collect children from school, spend time with elderly parents or simply wave goodbye to the commute. Knowing that business continuity could be assured, most companies continued to offer hybrid and remote working, and most still do, despite being under threat in some areas.

The Weekend is a Relatively New Concept

But what if that flexibility was extended? Who decided that working 5 days a week should be the norm and would guarantee maximum productivity? Once upon a time it was normal for UK workers to work on Saturdays too. In fact, although the movement for a 48 hour weekend began in the 1840s, it wasn’t until the 1930s that it became established. Just because a system appears to have always been that way, doesn’t mean that it can’t change.

The UK 4 Day Week Trial

The movement towards a 4 day week is gaining pace across the world, and between June and December last year, the UK took part in its biggest ever 4 day week trial. Conducted by the non-profit 4-Day Week Global and think tank, Autonomy and the University of Cambridge – the trial looked at 60 companies and around 3,000 workers, with no loss of pay. And the results seem to have been a resounding success. Companies reported that productivity levels remained high, that revenues increased and that there was a reduction in the normal rates of staff turnover and absence.

90% of Companies Decided to Keep the 4 Day Week Policy

From an employee perspective, 90% said they’d definitely prefer to continue with the 4 day week, saying they felt more energised and 15% said that no amount of money could make them return to a 5 day week! Happily for them, 90% of companies decided to continue with the 4 day week on a permanent basis. Of the few who didn’t, some decided to extend the trial period.

Employees are Happier, Healthier and More Engaged

4 Day Week Global found that the results were consistent across the board, regardless of whether the business was large or small, or whether the employee was male or female. People used their increased leisure time to pursue life-style hobbies and spend more time with their families, which they said reduced stress and anxiety and made the return to work a better experience. Companies also found that where they offered the 4 day week as hybrid, employees tended to choose to spend at least 3 of the days in the office to connect with colleagues, network and socialise.

It Could Lead to Increased Costs

But not all businesses are on board with the idea and in some industries it could even lead to greater costs. In the healthcare industry for example, where hours are usually taken in shifts, a four day week would mean employing more people. And some people, not a large percentage it has to be said, simply prefer the structure of a 5 day week.

Belgium Workers Win Right to 4 Day Week

Across the world, other countries are moving towards a 4 day week and in Belgium, workers recently won the right to a four day week and can choose whether to work 4 or 5 days. In New Zealand, Unilever conducted an 18 month trial of its staff and found absenteeism dropped and revenue grew. They have since decided to expand the trial to Australia.

Not So Many Cons

So there would seem to be a lot of pros and not too many cons. Perhaps the most difficult barrier for business to overcome is cultural, entrenched in a mindset of “well, we’ve always done things this way,” with systems and policies set up for 5 days of work. But with the advance of automation, surely one of the promises of was always “more leisure time,” and if it means productivity boost too, then it may just be a question of time until we don’t have to wait for a rainy Bank Holiday in August to have a 3 day weekend.


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Avalara helps businesses of all sizes get tax compliance right. In partnership with leading ERP, accounting, eCommerce and other financial management system providers, Avalara delivers cloudbased compliance solutions for various transactional taxes, including sales and use, VAT, GST, excise, communications, lodging, and other indirect tax types. Headquartered in Seattle, Avalara has offices across the U.S. and around the world in Canada, the U.K., Belgium, Brazil, and India.