More for Less? The Four-Day Week

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Andy Dawson, Director and Co-Founder of Curium Solutions discusses the four-day workweek movement, highlighting the benefits for employers and employees.

This article was written for the Birmingham Economic Review, published in September 2023. 

The review is produced by City-REDI / WMREDI, the University of Birmingham and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

The 4-day workweek movement can change the way we work for good. The idea has gained considerable attention and momentum over the last 12 months, as several global pilots have demonstrated significant benefits. 

So how does a 4-week work? 

Employees typically reduce their hours from 40 to 32 hours per week, they receive 100% of the original pay, and in return, there is a commitment to maintain 100% of their output by improving productivity. Its impact, however, goes beyond an improved work-life balance and increased employee satisfaction – it is transforming how companies hire and retain people. Since the pandemic, this has become important, as employees expect greater flexibility about where and how they can work.  

As I write, we have started to see a shift in the attitude of some employers towards remote and hybrid working, which is in danger of eroding trust. Initiatives such as the 4-day week could prove to be an olive branch that could help to build bridges. 

An important consideration for all business leaders in today’s challenging labour market, is how the 4-day week can help to attract and retain talent?   

Competitive Advantage for Talent Attraction  

Businesses need every advantage they can get to attract new talent. Newer entrants to the job market are looking for greater flexibility in the workplace. Offering a 4-day workweek can set your organisation apart from competitors.  

According to a survey by Flex Jobs, 80% of respondents considered work flexibility when evaluating a job offer. When Atom Bank began piloting the 4-day week, they saw a 500% increase in job applications. The evidence from the recent global pilots highlights that employers can tap into a broader talent pool, attracted by improved flexibility. 

Boosting Employee Retention 

The results from the UK 4-day week pilot indicated that the number of employees leaving companies in the pilot was down by 57%. We are still in a challenging labour market, where the full cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be approximately 6 to 9 months of salary.  This is partly because employees are happier, better rested and more actively engaged in the business itself. 71% of employees had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the UK pilot.   

As part of moving to a shorter working week,  employees are actively involved in redesigning workflows and meeting structures, and 55% of employees reported an increase in their ability at work. People are in control of their work, as well as the designing their perfect role.     

Business Performance 

The 4-day week is needed for everyone, including the employer. The business needs to perform too. Output levels need to be maintained.  The results from the trials support this. In the UK, 92% of companies are continuing with the 4-day. Business and productivity levels were performing well.  

Atom Bank had a keen eye on their customers during their pilot, and they recorded positive customer scores during the pilot:  

  •        Trustpilot score rose from 4.54 (out of 5) to 4.82 
  •        Customer goodwill score rose from 83.1% to 85.8%

Further afield, Microsoft Japan reported a 40% increase in productivity. This can make your workforce more efficient, creating a compelling case for prospective employees.  

Enhanced Work-Life Balance 

The modern workforce increasingly prioritises work-life balance. Data from the World Economic Forum reveals that employees value flexibility more than ever before.  Offering a 4-day workweek accommodates these desires, making them more attractive. In the UK pilot, 62% of employees reported that it was easier to combine work and social lives, whilst 43% reported an improvement in their mental health.  

Positive Brand Image 

A commitment to employee well-being and work-life balance positively impacts a company’s brand image. It sends a message that you value your people and are committed to a healthy work environment.  

An important part of the 4-day week approach is to radically rethink and redesign how work gets done. The leaders who are attracted to the idea are progressive. Typically, they create an open and innovative culture, based on high levels of trust that employees are seeking out in today’s volatile workplace.   

The 4-day workweek is no longer a utopian concept.  Pioneers are discovering that it positively influences hiring strategies, providing them a competitive edge in the job market. It is not just a forward-thinking choice, it is becoming a strategic advantage, where the first mover gets noticed.  

Importantly, the 4-day week is not just for smaller companies. Larger businesses, such as accountancy firms Cooper Parry and Atom Bank, have led the way. 

So where do you start? Talk to companies like mine. We are helping companies like yours to successfully transition to a 4-day week. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. A 4-day week program needs to be tailored to your business and culture.

Good luck, and stay curious.  

This blog was written by Andy Dawson, Director and Co-Founder, Curium Solutions.

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WMREDI or the University of Birmingham.

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