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Could we see a four-day working week in the UK?

A new study shows that the UK may see a four-day working week in the near future – as campaigners call it ‘inevitable’

Albert Toth
Thursday 22 February 2024 17:31 GMT
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Most of the UK companies that participated in a ground-breaking four-day working week trial have made the policy permanent, a new study shows.

The trial, the largest ever of its kind, tested the new way of working in 61 companies. 54 of them (89 per cent) are still operating the policy a year later, with 31 (51 per cent) committing to the change permanently.

Conducted by the Autonomy thinktank and researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Salford and Boston College in the US, the study found that every project manager and CEO consulted said the four-day week had a positive impact on their organisation.

With a public sector pilot soon to arrive in Scotland, and South Cambridgeshire District Council already establishing shorter working hours, awareness of the four-day work week is growing year on year.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Could a four-day work week become the norm in our lifetime?

It is “an inevitability” says Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign. “We’re at the beginning of society shifting,” he explains, with innovations like AI and automation allowing workplaces to become both more productive and use less time.

“But workers are not seeing a reduction in their hours”.

The new report proposes a number of benefits of the four-day week, from increased productivity to improved worker wellbeing. Many individuals reported being less stressed and feeling more positive about work, learning to “work smarter” and cut out unecessary meetings.

“It has had a huge impact. I am now able to spend a day a week with my daughter,” one anonymous participant said. “This made transitioning back to work from maternity leave much easier. It has also saved us childcare costs”

However, the government has not been receptive to calls for a four-day working week. Last year, the Levelling Up Department went so far as to threaten withholding funding from local authorities who adopt the practice.

“We’ve got a Conservative party that’s stuck in the past,” Mr Ryle says. Meanwhile, he says, the four-day week campaign has received positive feedback from frontbench Labour MPs such as Angela Rayner, Ed Milliband and Liz Kendall.

“It was almost 100 years ago that society shifted from a six-day week to a five-day week,” Mr Ryle says.

“In many ways it’s long overdue.”

How would a four-day week work?

The 4 Day Week Campaign sets out a ‘mini-manifesto’ which it calls on political parties to back. This includes a reduction to the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 – by the end of the decade.

The group also calls for an amendment to the official flexible working guidance, allowing workers to request a four-day, 32 hour working week with no loss of pay.

However, Matthew Percival, a director at the Confederation of British Industry, says the four-day week should not be considered a “one size fits all answer”.

He said: “If businesses have the budget to add to their offer to employees, then they will be considering the relative merits of reducing working hours compared to increasing pay, pensions or paid parental leave, as well as better supporting health and wellbeing.”

Companies that trialled the four-day week all used slightly different models, however. Some chose to adopt models where everyone got the same day off, whereas others allowed for a more flexible approach. There were also differences in whether the day was guaranteed, or conditional on certain work being completed.

Responding to the new report, a government spokesperson said: “We have no plans to introduce a four-day working week.”

“Ultimately it is for employers and employees to agree what working arrangements work best for them, and we will be making changes to our flexible working legislation in April, including the right to request flexible working from day 1 of a new job.”

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