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Could the four-day week be our saviour?

Jess Hardy 13 October 2021

Minimal home office set up

It’s safe to say the pandemic hit us all hard. But from the depths of loss, upheaval, chaos, and loneliness has come a type of clarity. We are increasingly realising what’s important to us and what we want to prioritise in life. From ditching the commute, spending more time with the kids, sleeping in, exercising; to pursuing our passions or relocating to somewhere hotter, cheaper or closer to family - for many of us, it means our careers are being scrutinised.


What is it that we want to spend 37.5+ hours a week doing? Is it worthwhile? Does it add value to the world? And is this time now compatible with my re-prioritised life?


Survey findings tell us we’re more stressed, more hunched (see: makeshift bedroom desks) and more burnt out than ever. But we’re also becoming more ‘woke’ to the environment, ways of working and policies in our workplaces. People are leaving their employers in their droves and those who stick around are expecting things to be different. Over and above trialling hybrid working, how are employers responding to new shifts and ideas around the future of work?


Enter much chat around the four-day workweek. Could it help rebalance our lives? Is it inevitable as we move towards automation? Are we holding onto antiquated industrial practices, when the world (ok, Iceland) has moved on?


Here’s the thing – in my (anecdotal) research with colleagues, HR professionals and friends, literally everyone thinks it’s a great idea, but believe it will never happen on a huge scale. Whilst reasons vary, very few people are aware of the evidence. From a joint research project with Iceland and a British Think Tank, Autonomy – which having studied 3,000 employees in the public sector over three years, working four days at the same salary – found that productivity actually increased. Not only that, but men started taking on a bigger share of the household labour and workers reported feeling less stressed and healthier too. In another study, 63% of businesses that implemented a four day week found it easier to attract and retain talent and 78% of employees reported better health.


Could the four-day week be the answer to addressing burnout, rebalancing gender norms AND attracting great talent? We think it just might. The NFP coalition, ‘4 day Week Global’ puts it nicely: “a hundred years ago we moved from working a six-day week to a five-day week, and we’re overdue an update.”


Factor in Parkinson’s Law - that work expands to fill the time assigned to it - and the reported rise in presenteeism, it’s no surprise the four-day workweek seems to be back on the agenda.


Unilever, Kickstarter, and Perpetual Guardian are all advocates, making the case that what’s good for people, is good for business. Having worked a four-day week for the past five years, I couldn’t agree more. With doctors’ appointments, kid-min, quality time with my youngest - all to get done on my non-working day, giving the weekends at least a chance of being relaxing.


Has your company trialled a four-day week yet? Let us know.