100 British companies back the 4-day working week. Could it start a workplace revolution?

03 Feb 2023

100 British companies back the 4-day working week. Could it start a workplace revolution?

An open-plan office with people working.

For decades there has been talk of overhauling the five-day working week to improve work-life balance. Now, 100 British companies are embracing change to shorten the working week to four days. With research suggesting it could improve productivity, could more businesses follow suit? 

100 companies across the UK have signed up for a permanent four-day working week for all their employees, who will not lose any pay. In total, the companies employ around 2,600 people, so only represent a tiny fraction of the UK’s workforce. Yet, it’s hoped that the positive experience of these businesses will drive more firms to embrace the change. 

There are several different ways businesses can manage a shorter working week. While some opt to close completely for a three-day weekend, others rotate the days that staff are off so customers can still access services during normal business hours. 

On the surface, reducing the working week by a fifth may seem like it would harm business productivity and profitability. However, research suggests that the opposite could be true.

95% of businesses trialling a shorter working week say productivity hasn’t been negatively affected

It’s still early days for many businesses that have embraced a shorter working week, but it’s often hailed as a success. 

The UK 4 Day Week Campaign group is currently coordinating the world’s largest pilot scheme for around 70 companies, which employ 3,300 workers. While they haven’t made the change permanent yet, according to the Guardian, 95% of companies involved in the scheme said productivity had either stayed the same or improved. 

88% of companies also said the four-day week was working “well” for them. The findings suggest that many companies have transitioned to a shorter week relatively smoothly. 

Of course, a shorter working week does present challenges and, understandably, some businesses are concerned about how it could affect operations.

A report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development asked employers which challenges they faced when implementing reduced working hours. The challenges included: 

  • This way of working not suiting everybody in the organisation (32%)
  • Being unable to achieve the same volume of work or output as before (30%)
  • Some tasks requiring someone to be present (26%). 

Despite some difficulties, around a third of businesses expect the four-day working week to become a reality for most workers in the next 10 years, and only 1 in 4 employers haven’t considered it already. 

As well as potentially improving productivity for some businesses, embracing a shorter working week could have other benefits too.

It’s likely to be an attractive perk for employees that could help improve retention and build an experienced team. When you’re hiring, it could also attract more talent and help you find the right person to fill the role. 

At a time when inflation is high, offering a shorter working week could also be a compromise when employees are seeking wage increases to match the rising cost of living. 

A shorter working week has also been linked to benefits for the environment, as there will be fewer people commuting, and local economies will be supported as employees will have more free time. 

Will the 4-day week catch on?

There’s still a long way to go before a shorter working week catches on, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be something that happens during your working life – it wasn’t too long ago that having just a single day off each week was the norm. 

In 19th century Britain, Sundays were a holy day and people weren’t expected to work.

The adoption of a longer weekend is often linked to the US, where Jewish factory workers observed Sabbath on Saturdays. It led to a mill in New England allowing a two-day weekend in 1908 to accommodate Jewish employees. It was popular among workers and spread to other industries before the US officially adopted a five-day working week in 1932.

Around the same time, a shift was starting in the UK too. In 1933, John Boot, chairman of the Boots  corporation, embraced a two-day weekend when factory improvements led to surpluses but he didn’t want to make staff redundant. The change had a positive effect on productivity and reduced absenteeism.

So, while a relatively small number of businesses are operating a 4-day working week so far, they could be the catalyst for much larger and significant change.  



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