How would you like Friday off? The idea of a four-day work week has taken root, but whether it is practical is anyone’s guess.

    As workers’ lives have been turned upside down anyway by the pandemic, it seems some firms have taken the moment to try out the idea.

    Examples include German tech firm Awin, Unilever’s New Zealand arm, and even UK-based financial adviser Dennis Hall.

    The idea has gained traction with some governments, most notably in Spain, where small left-wing party Más País has managed to convince the governing party to throw €50 million at the idea in a pilot project. 

    In the UK, the idea first began to gain traction with a think tank called Autonomy. While ostensibly independent, it does have links to the former Labour Party leadership, namely former shadow chancellor John McDonnell. 

    While that leadership was unceremoniously removed thanks to a dismal showing at the 2019 general election, the idea has not disappeared.

    While further detail is scant, it is clear that the idea is now being taken seriously by more and more governments.

    Four-day work week explained

    In a nutshell, the four-day work week would truncate a typical 37.5/40 hour work week into just 32 hours. How this is laid out is up for discussion, but typically it means a three-day weekend.

    There are a few arguments laid out for why this would be a good thing:

    1. It would improve employee wellbeing. Working a five-day week with only two days off in between is increasingly framed as old-fashioned and not in tune with modern lives. The five-day work week was essentially created by Henry Ford in 1926. Before then, six or seven day work weeks were not uncommon, despite Sunday traditionally being seen as a day of rest in Christian societies. 
    2. It would account for modern lives. A five-day work week is argued to be too much time devoted to working and not enough on one’s own life. For example, modern lives often mean both partners are working while paying for childcare. But the cost of childcare can be prohibitive for many, leaving families with difficult decisions. The addition of two extra free days a week for a working couple could make a significant financial difference for them when raising kids. 
    3. It would increase efficiency. This one is debatable, but proponents say four days of hard work could outperform five days of 70% effort. Global network Awin initially trialled a 4.5-day work week – and this was so successful in increasing sales, employee engagement and client satisfaction that it has now taken the full step to four. 

    How would it work in practice?

    A four-day working week could function in several different ways.  

    Firstly there could be a company-wide extra day of rest, although critics fear this could be counterproductive as it would leave the firm non-functional for a fifth of everyone else’s normal calendar.

    Alternatively, flexible working hours could be offered to employees for them to decide which day suits them. 

    But this still leaves a question over man hours - by permanently implementing four-day weeks, employees would still be paid the same for less time at their desk. Instead, those lost eight hours could be spread into longer hours for the other days. 

    Many of us already spend more time at our desks thanks to working from home and the time savings made by not commuting during the pandemic, so why not formalise that? 

    Would it work for your advice business? 

    It is hard to quantify how successful a four-day work week might be for you and your advice business, but it is worth exploring.

    Studies conducted by the University of Reading in 2019 found that businesses saved costs, saw employees take fewer sick days, and produced better quality work with a four-day model. 

    That being said, not every business is the same. A professional economy firm that has less pointless meetings because of a four-day week would have a very different experience of it from a manufacturer, which might produce less of its goods thanks to less time spent on production.  

    Unilever New Zealand is able to implement four-day weeks because it is just distributing products, not making them. The idea Unilever might deploy the idea to its global workforce is a little harder to imagine. 

    But advice businesses might be better positioned to at least have a go. The example of Dennis Hall suggests the road to four days is bumpy but not impossible to achieve. 

    Hall’s experience would suggest the best thing to come from his four-day a week experiment is identifying the most inefficient aspects of the way he does business. 

    If that means fewer unnecessary emails, Zoom calls, or admin, then it might not just be a bad thing.  

     

    References

    https://employeebenefits.co.uk/awin-four-day-working-week/ 

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/business/unilever-work-week.html 

    https://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/opinion/dennis-hall-how-im-trying-to-make-a-four-day-week-work-across-my-business/ 

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/15/spain-to-launch-trial-of-four-day-working-week 

    https://research.reading.ac.uk/research-blog/economics-of-a-four-day-working-week-research-shows-it-can-save-businesses-money/ 

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