4-day week – The perfect work-life balance?

The perfect work-life balance. That elusive idyll that commerce has strived for since, oh, the industrial revolution. During the 1930s there were predictions that we’d all be working a 15-hour week within a century. As for the phrase ‘work-life balance’, we should recognise the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1980s for coining it, emerging during their persistence in fighting for maternity leave and flexible work schedules for women.

Things have moved on quite a bit since then

Today the issue of work-life balance includes strategies aimed at efficient time management, higher productivity and increased wellbeing for all genders. Concerns about mental wellbeing, paired with the power of today’s technology, have driven a major shift in thinking in flexible work practices. And one strategy gaining momentum, on a global basis, is the 4-day week.

But can it really work?

Can people be as productive in a 4-day week as they can in five?  And if so, why aren’t we all doing it? According to a pilot scheme run by a New Zealand financial organisation, the answer is a resounding yes.

In 2018, Perpetual Guardian put all of their 240 staff onto a 4-day week whilst maintaining their pay. The trial was monitored by academics at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology

The results showed not only no drop in the total amount of work done, but that stress levels amongst employees had reduced significantly, with work-life balances scores increasing from 54% to 78%. What’s more, staff commitment to the organisation rose.

As a direct result of examining the findings of this pilot, the Wellcome Trust is reported to be trialling a 4-day week at their London HQ.

Sounds great – but what’s the downside?

It’s not all good news, of course. Making such a fundamental change is a risk and one that could cost. A retirement home in Gothenburg trialled a six-hour day, resulting in the need to create a number of new nursing positions to cover the gaps. Their costs increased by 22%.

A 4-day week model is not a ‘one size fits all’ trend. Companies wanting to adopt the system will have to adapt and restructure to a greater or lesser degree. Some jobs take a certain amount of time, no matter how much effort the worker puts in. They just can’t be done faster – for example, jobs relying on machine processes.

And if we are cynical, we are sure some companies would offer new employees a 4-day week ‘benefit’ but actually reduce the offered salary – whilst expecting a workload in line with a full week.

On balance it looks positive

We have to say, a lot of the research is positive, as much for small organisations as the large ones we have mentioned. According to the Guardian, a raft of small British firms including a lingerie manufacturer, a lighting design firm and a landscape architect have switched their workers over to a 4-day week.

There’s no doubt a groundswell of opinion is forming. The TUC published a report last year calling for shorter working hours, and the Green Party has long pledged a 4-day week in their manifesto.

So whilst we wait to see how things develop, maybe it’s time to start testing the water. What do you think? Would you consider piloting a 4-day week scheme at your company? Or have you already tried it? We’d be fascinated to hear the results.

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