Friday 12 July 2019 4:54 am

Four better or four worse: Would saying farewell to the five-day working week really be a good idea?

Dr Miriam Marra is a lecturer in finance at Henley Business School.

Having four generations in the workforce is becoming increasingly common in the UK. Baby boomers, generation X, millennials, and generation Z are working side by side, and simultaneously bringing different experience to their areas of work.

But what do workers at different stages of life want from their jobs, and how do businesses adapt to meet all of these needs?

While employees have long considered salary and future career prospects as priorities, new research from Henley Business School has found that flexible working is now also high on the agenda for all generations when considering a place of work.

One of the most sought-after solutions to flexible working is the four-day working week (that is, working four days instead of five, while being paid a full-time salary). We found that 72 per cent of people are most attracted to this option – rising to 80 per cent for gen Z alone.

When competition for recruiting and retaining talent is ferocious, offering benefits such as flexibility is a must for companies seeking talented people. And in the UK, businesses are beginning to acknowledge this – in fact, 75 per cent of those we spoke to for our white paper believe it is important.

Half of the employers we surveyed have already implemented a four-day week of some description, and we estimate that the combined savings for UK business is already as high as £92bn a year.

Almost two thirds of those implementing a four-day working week report a clear increase in productivity and the quality of work. There is also a positive impact on wellbeing: 78 per cent of employers said their staff were happier.

Of course, while this does sound attractive, this shift in working style would not be without its challenges.

Indeed, there is some resistance to the idea, with some businesses needing staff to be available to customers at all times. This is a particular concern for bosses of small firms, with
91 per cent saying that it would be very difficult to offer.

Interestingly, when we asked employees how they felt about working a four-day week, 45 per cent felt that they would be put off moving to this style of work if their fellow colleagues perceived them as lazy, with a third also expressing concern about handing work over to their colleagues.

If these challenges can be overcome, however, the rewards can be far-reaching.

A reduced working week can help social welfare by reducing carbon emissions and pollution through a potential saving of half a billion travelled miles each week (nine per cent of total car mileage), improving the quality of family time, encouraging volunteer work, and even populating high streets (54 per cent of the employees surveyed said they would use their extra day off to shop).

This evident desire for flexible working connects back to Henley’s 2018 research into the growth of the “side hustle”, with nearly half of gen Z and millennials saying they would use an extra day away from work to develop their work skills, with even more choosing to focus on a personal interest, such as a hobby or a side-business.

All the above reasons should urge both businesses and the government to think through the ways to implement it, and consider how we may be able to overcome problems to implementation, particularly those in small firms.

Clarity and consistency across businesses and the workforce are crucial to the success of this strategy.
Greater flexibility could be the way forward to engage all four generations of workers with different needs and backgrounds. It can lead to greater autonomy in work and increased creativity.

That’s something to think about on the your next day off.