The perks and pitfalls of the four-day work week

Will working Monday to Friday become a thing of the past? TOG takes a look

The idea of having a longer weekend sounds like a dream, yet it’s already a reality for the 3,300 UK workers at 70 businesses who are currently taking part in the world’s biggest trial of the four-day week. This new work routine offers major rewards, particularly when it comes to quality of life – but is working less hours all it’s cracked up to be? Future-of-work writer MaryLou Costa examines some of the pros and cons, and spotlights a couple of companies who have moved away from the standard Monday-to-Friday regime.

There’s more time for “me time”

Marketing company Awin began piloting the four-day work week in January 2021 and now its global marketing director, Lisa Chaikin, thinks Friday is the best day of her week – with her daughter at school, she’s able to sort through life admin (freeing up more of her weekend), and even squeeze in a recharging yoga session or a nap.

Most importantly, Chaikin hasn’t had to take a pay cut, see her employment benefits reduced, or work longer hours.

“I'm a big advocate of a four-day week, but I do think it takes someone who is organised and not easily distracted. It's the duty of care of the business to instil this culture in its staff to make it work – but it's possible for every organisation if planned properly,” adds Chaikin.

Workflow will undergo a change

All employees shifting to a four-day schedule must grapple with the predicament of having less hours to achieve five days worth of work. While four-day week advocates say the increased productivity, motivation and morale make this a non-issue, others have accepted that there’s no such thing as a free day off.

Marketing agency Reflect Digital offers a four-day work week, but there’s a catch – staff must clock-in longer hours so that their time worked still equates to a traditional five-day week.

“We didn’t cut hours, as with the type of business we are, it would have massively impacted our ability to deliver for our clients and our revenue. Instead, we were able to find a way that works for all parties,” rationalises CEO Becky Simms.

Awin, however, has found a way around this by operating a five-day rota across teams to ensure that, even with people working four days, there’s always someone on-hand to answer a client query and generally keep things ticking along.

Taking holiday could get tricky

While staff at Awin work four days and are paid for five, there are a couple of setbacks: they’re required to book five days leave when taking a week off, and on weeks when there’s public holidays, they still need to complete the equivalent of four days of work. They’re also expected to bump up their working hours during busy periods like the Black Friday sales.

But is this truly in the spirit of the four-day work week? For Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy – a partner organisation behind the UK’s official four-day work week piloting programme – it’s a firm no.

“When implementing a four-day week, it’s important that time away from work is valued and protected – days off shouldn’t be interrupted by work calls or emails,” Stronge argues.

Likewise, moves to a four-day week should also be inclusive of part-time staff within the organisation, he added. Part-time employees should either be offered further reduced hours for the same pay, or get a pay rise.

According to a survey by Censuswide and ClickUp, nearly a third of Britons are now actively looking for a four-day work week; could jumping on the four-day bandwagon save companies from the threat of the Great Resignation? As with any trial, the proof will be in the results.

Illustrations are by Harriet Noble