A four-day week would boost efficiency, productivity, health and wellbeing
With the Easter bank holidays behind us and more to come in May, we are enjoying a season of four-day weeks.
But walk through any BizSpace business centre on a Friday, and you could be forgiven for thinking that every week is a four-day week.
Many of our customers, most of whom work for themselves or run micro-businesses, work hard Monday to Thursday, and reward themselves with a three-day weekend.
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Ever since dress-down Fridays became widespread, the last day of the week has had a special status. Highlighting how Fridays are increasingly seen as a hybrid between weekday and weekend, last year the BBC switched Radio One’s Friday schedule to the same format as Saturday and Sunday, reflecting the changing work-life rhythms of its millennial audience.
As the UK’s largest provider of flexible workspace, it is clear to us that those who manage their own schedules view Friday as a day off.
As more people go freelance or work for themselves, this trend is likely to continue. But will it ever become the norm for all businesses?
In the UK, four-day weeks have been proposed in some political parties’ election manifestos. And there is evidence to suggest that they could make business sense too.
New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian ran an experiment that reduced the company’s working week from 40 hours to 32. Researchers found that the change boosted productivity: workers spent the long weekend with their families, exercised, or engaged in pastimes, but managed to fit the same amount of work into four days.
While output stayed the same, work-life balance improved by 24 per cent.
Similarly, research has shown that giving staff a half or full-day off on a Friday during the summer months can increase efficiency. In addition to improved morale and reduced staff turnover, a study from Opinion Research Corporation showed that 66 per cent of employees who have summer hours felt more productive as a result.
A four-day week might offer other benefits. Poor mental health at work is estimated to cost employers £33bn to £42bn a year, and by improving overall wellbeing, a shorter week could help reduce the burden on healthcare services. Meanwhile, taking commuters off the roads one day a week would offer environmental advantages.
Of course, there are some risks to a shorter week. At Perpetual Guardian, the four-day week saw workers fit their 40 hours of work into 32, but other companies may choose to ask employees to work longer days. For some, this new rhythm may be tiring, thus decreasing productivity.
Equally, not everyone will be able to fit their working week into four days, meaning that they may end up working overtime and feeling resentful.
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma recently argued in favour of working 12 hours a day, six days a week, as a solution to China’s slowing economic growth. Certainly, there are those that reject the idea of a four-day week as an attempt to pander to a millennial workforce with different attitudes and priorities from previous generations.
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However, there does not seem to be a positive correlation between long hours and productivity, whereas improved work-life balance and employee wellbeing have been shown to raise efficiency and output.
With technology meaning that we can work from anywhere, and businesses beginning to understand the value that today’s workers attach to flexibility, it is likely that employers will be increasingly willing to let staff choose when and where they work.
There is also a growing realisation that contributions should be measured by output rather than time spent at a desk. So enjoy this season of four-day weeks – at some point they may become the norm.