Could a 4-day work week increase productivity?

Has your company considered exploring a 4-day working week? In an article published in the Telegraph, Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England, expressed the view that Britain is on track for a 4-day working week by 2050.

He believes that a 3-day weekend could become the norm within just over 30 years as advances in new technology and changes in the labour market trigger an overhaul of the traditional working week. He said there was a clear trend towards working shorter hours driven by advancing technology and an increasingly flexible labour market which allowed people to choose when and how much to work.

New Zealand based financial services company Perpetual Guardian, says it has increased its productivity by 20% since switching 240 employees to a 4-day working week. So could it work for your business?

The current model of working 5 days per week is often credited to US motor tycoon Henry Ford. He proposed a switch from a six-day 48-hour working week to 40 hours on the Monday to Friday car production line in 1914. The creation of unions helped to forge it as the 20th Century’s working norm to give workers two days’ rest – a weekend break which has remained largely unbroken to this day.

According to the results of a study by the ONS, we work the longest hours in Europe and yet we are less productive, with Germans and French producing in four days what we produce in 5. Some four-day week campaigners point to Parkinson’s law, which claims work expands to fill the time available for its completion, as an explanation of how workers in Britain effectively waste a day a week.

So what could be the benefits of a shorter working week?

  • better worklife balance for your employees
  • reduced stress levels and less chance of ‘burn out’
  • Increased engagement whilst at work
  • Less time wasting and greater focus
  • Increased wellbeing and happiness
  • Environmental benefits – potential reduction in CO2 emissions with one less commute to work
  • Reduced overheads
  • Increased creativity

But is there a downside? This won’t necessarily work for every business and will need to be carefully evaluated to ensure it is viable for your situation. It may not work for your employees either; it is important to consider the wider impact of this type of change. Think about those that work irregular hours or regular overtime and those with childcare responsibilities.