Interest in the four-day week has been on the rise in recent years with the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the shift in how businesses organise their teams while employees are looking a6t how to achieve a better work life balance.
Currently, more than 3300 workers at 70 companies are working a four-day week with no loss of pay in the biggest ever four-day week pilot to take place anywhere in the world.
They are more than half way through the six-month trial, which started on June 6. It is based on the principle of the 100:80:100 model – 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity.
Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, one of the organisations behind the campaign, said: “Companies should embrace the four-day week as a way of boosting productivity, improving wellbeing and to help with job retention. The 9-5, 5 day working week is outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”
At BusinessLive, we’ve been covering the trend for a number of years and for this article, we check in with firms from right across the UK to see how it’s going.
From early adopters to businesses that have made the change in recent months, we find out how things are working out from both a business and employee perspective.
The responses are honest and explain the pros and cons.
We firmly believe the four-day week is the future of working life
Challenger bank Atom last November became the largest UK business to move all employees to a four-day working week, with no change of salary.
The Durham business, which now has 480 staff, made the shift in recognition of people having longer working lives, the positive impact of technology, flexible working and the need to live and work more sustainably.
More than six months on, Atom has seen a noticeable positive impact that the shift has had on employees, customer service, and operations.
Anne-Marie Lister, chief people officer at Atom, said: “Over six months on from introducing our new four-day working week, it’s clear that it has been a huge success for our business and our people.
“People are rightly looking for a healthier work/life balance, and despite warnings from some sceptics, our metrics and people surveys show that this has not had a negative impact on employees or customer service. In fact, it has been the opposite, with happier, more efficient, and more productive people who are even more driven to help us change banking for the better.
“We firmly believe the four-day week is the future of working life and it is encouraging to now see the range of businesses across the UK embracing the four-day week trials.”
One objective was to attract and retain talent more effectively and data reveals this has been a success, having seen a 500% surge in job applications following its launch.
Headcount has grown from 461 in November 2021 to 480 in June 2022, thanks also to a reduction in the number of departures. Atom said this has been vital, with the fight for talent becoming fiercely competitive following the widespread adoption of hybrid working following the pandemic.
Productivity levels have also been measured by each department, with metrics specific to each of the 10 departments. Data collated for the six months to April reveals that across all of the 165 departmental metrics tracked, the success rate has improved.
Employees are also more motivated working a four-day week too. Almost all (92%) report that they look forward to work, and there has been a 13% increase in people engagement between February 2022 and 12 months earlier. Days lost to sickness have also declined since the introduction of the new working structure, dropping from 100 in the month of November 2021, to 72 in June 2022.
Meanwhile, in terms of Atom’s impact on customer service, its Trust Pilot score has risen from 4.54 at the start of the new working structure to 4.82 in June.
What do Atom employees say?
As to how staff members use their time off, Paul, contact centre team leader, said: “I’ve been using my extra day off to do an advanced motorcyclist course so I can volunteer for Northumbria Blood Bikes as a rider, transporting blood from surgeries to hospitals.”
Jonathon, telephone business development manager, said: “The four-day working week has allowed me to spend some quality time with my three year old son Jack. Spending our time in the best soft plays & swimming pools Sunderland has to offer, before dropping him off & picking him up from nursery. Without this day off, I would rarely be able to have this quality time together during the week.”
In short, I’ve been a dad
Merthyr Valleys Homes
Merthyr Valley Homes adopted a 30-hour week in the four day working week pilot scheme without loss of pay.
Some staff member are working a four day week and some are working shorter hours over five days to ensure service provision over five days.
The biggest challenge for the firm has been finding ways to work differently while ensuring services aren’t impacted, however it has tried out new approaches during the pilot and says it has found “some very quick wins”.
A spokesperson said: “We have been working on how best to measure success and we are developing a number of new performance measures as a direct result of participating in the trial.”
A positive outcome has been the cooperation between teams and directorates.
“The conversations around how to work more efficiently have been really interesting and it has given everyone a reason to take the time to look at this collectively.”
The company has also seen support for the scheme from its stakeholders and the housing sector in Wales, and has attracted a wide range of candidates to apply for its job vacancies.
Of the advice it would give to other businesses thinking of moving to a four day week, the firm says: “Don’t be too prescriptive and set too many rules – our colleagues have been our greatest asset in designing their own solutions.”
The employee perspective
Ross Williams is the tenant engagement lead for Merthyr Valleys Homes.
The 42-year-old, who is married with 2 children, says the four day working week has hugely improved his work-life balance.
“I feel working 80% of the hours has increased my output. And I realise that a huge reason for this is because of what I choose to do with the other 20%,” he said.
During his non-working day on a Thursday, Mr Williams says he will fit in some early morning exercise or catch up with friends before picking up his 3-year-old son from nursery at 11am. He will also collect his daughter from school.
“In short, I’ve been a dad,” he said. “I’ve been guilty in the past of prioritising work over family and I’m determined to ensure this time remains a space where I get to enjoy some of the simple pleasures.”
During work hours, Mr Williams says the four day working week pilot has also provided some real work benefits and encouraged practical changes within the business.
In meetings, he says discussions are pertinent and decisions are reached “as quickly as possible saving time for myself and colleagues”.
He said: “I feel so much more productive knowing that my work is planned, my non-working day is factored in and my diary ensures my team can access me to ensure they are able to retain the same level of productivity,” he said.
“I think I am more productive, more focused and more content in my role. I have become much more well prepared for the time off that the four day week gives me.”
You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to five days
Marketing Signals, moved to a four-day working week in May with staff working 32-hours with no loss of pay.
When Managing Director Gareth Hoyle explained the reasons behind his decision on Linkedin, his post went viral and he was inundated with questions from other business bosses keen to do the same.
Mr Hoyle said he is excited to be part of a new model of work.
“It focuses on quality not quantity and will revolutionise the future of work. A good work/life balance is the key to a happy and healthy workforce which leads to loyalty, ultimately helping our business grow.
“My motto has always been ‘don’t live to work and don’t work to live’, and if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s important we look after ourselves first. It’s important that my staff feel valued and understand life outside of work is just as important.”
What do staff say?
Web developer and dad to a newborn Jack Darracott says that a shift to a four-day working week has transformed his life and made him more productive at work.
He works smarter, not harder, and the extra day off allows him to spend more time with his newborn son.
He said: “Since moving to the four-day working week, I’ve been able to spend more quality time with my son, and experience all of the first milestones that I would have missed out on had I been working a full week.”
The catalyst for the move to a four-day week came from the rise in cost of living, which led to Jack asking for a change in working hours due to rising childcare costs.
Jack explains: “The new model has also helped save money as I now don’t have to spend more of my wages on additional childcare fees. This is especially important with the rise in the cost of living. The extra day off also offers breathing room for any curve balls that life may throw at me.”
The four-day trial was met with some scepticism as many people questioned whether it would actually work. However, Jack says it has improved his productivity and efficiency, and that he even feels more energised when he’s back in.
Jack said: adds: “Not only has it helped with my home life, but my work has also improved. My day off serves as a ‘reset day’, so when I’m back in I can look at work with a fresh pair of eyes and I feel more refreshed.”
“You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to five days.”
There have been a number of lessons along the way
London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Exeter and Cirencester
The landscape planning, ecology and arboriculture consultancy became the first in its industry to sign up to the UK pilot in June. Its 80-strong nationwide team does not work Fridays with no loss of income.
The firm is reporting promising results producing the same amount of work so far during the pilot – from June to August – as it did in the same period last year. This is a measurement ratio of productive time versus direct costs, which means the company is, as planned, 100% productive in 80% of the time.
At the pilot’s halfway point, Simon Ursell, Managing Director at Tyler Grange, shares his seven key pieces of advice on how to make the transition from five to four as seamless – and successful – as possible.
Preparation is vital
I can’t stress enough how important it is to prepare for the switch from five working days to four. To enjoy a better work-life balance and to have more time to spend doing what we love. This just can’t be switched on overnight.
Talk to your clients and customers
The most common concern, of course, was ‘what if we need you on a Friday?’ but the vast majority congratulated us for showing such innovation, yet again, and are keen to be kept up to date on how it’s going.
Talk to your team and be ready to realise that a four-day working week isn’t for everyone
It’s essential to engage with your team but it’s also important to realise that working a four-day week isn’t for everyone.
Once the pilot began, and we became more accustomed to our new systems and way of working – which removed lots of lengthy admin and unnecessary meetings and reporting from our day – they soon got their heads around it.
Take different job roles and departments into consideration
Some of our work is very seasonal so, for those teams that are very busy during summertime, we’ve delayed the implementation of some new processes until the autumn.
You need to give people time to learn how to work differently – and it may not be the same for everyone.
If you’re looking to sell your business, a four-day week might not be for you
We used to receive a number of approaches by companies looking to buy us. But interesting, since trialling the four-day week, they’ve stopped.
So, for any potential owners who are sceptical that cutting hours could increase productivity, working a four-day week probably feels like too great a gamble to get locked into.
Bite the bullet and only have one company-wide day off
In some companies, the potential impact of the four-day week is being mitigated by covering all days but with reduced colleagues. We wouldn’t recommend this, despite it perhaps seeming to be an easier option at first.
It can sometimes be more intense and tiring
Most jobs are intense from time to time, and we know that working four days rather than five can exacerbate this on occasions. The adoption of our Alertness App – means we can get a real handle on any tiredness early and can react straight away.
Mr Ursell said: “I’d be surprised if we don’t adopt a permanent four-day working week post-pilot, but we still have three months to go.
“The UK has an unhealthy culture where it is seen as a badge of honour to be work all the time, the brilliant talent that we want to attract at all levels of the organisation – don’t want to be defined by a burnout life.”
The worker’s point of view
Helen Brittain, 54, is an administrator at Tyler Grange.
She lives with her husband, her son and daughter-in-law, and her two grandchildren – Henrietta, 5, and Florence, 7, – as well as their two dogs.
Helen said her productivity has improved enormously and the new working processes and systems encourage me help her to plan better.
She said: “In the past, work -life balance was always a bit of an issue for me. I felt like a two-day weekend didn’t enable me to enjoy enough of a homelife or to do necessary chores.
Now she is able to get on with chores and care for her grandchildren and find some time for herself.
She said: “I’ve also recently embarked on my own self-learning journey around mental health, as well as looking after my psychical health by working with a personal trainer and nutritionist.
“All of this is having enormous benefits on my personal health and wellbeing, which then has a real impact on my workplace performance and productivity.”
We’re more productive and creative than ever before
A Huddersfield-based tech-based firm that introduced a permanent four-day week to all 100 staff four months ago say the move has paid massive dividends.
Accu, which designs, manufactures and distributes engineering components worldwide, says it has seen a major boost in productivity, job applications, turnover, and orders from customers.
The firm’s policy with no reduction in pay or obligation for staff to make the hours up.
From April-July, Accu has created 20 new jobs – a 25% increase in headcount. The number of applications per role has skyrocketed. One role, which previously got 40 applications, subsequently got 200 – a 400% increase. Similar numbers are being experienced across all vacancies.
Simultaneously, productivity is up, as the time it takes to respond to customer enquiries has improved by 46%. Order numbers and average values have increased by 15%, boosting turnover by 10% (quarter-on-quarter), meaning Accu is on track to hit £12m-plus turnover this year.
Company co-founder, Martin Ackroyd told YorkshireLive: “Giving people more personal time to enjoy the things they love has increased motivation, decreased the risk of burnout and has driven a renewed sense of purpose in our mission to help our customers build a better tomorrow. As a result, we’re more productive and creative than ever before.”
What do staff say?
Some staff have used their new spare time to pursue personal interests, such as home renovation and the arts, whilst others have used it to spend more time with their family or save on childcare costs.
Matt Ogden, community manager, said: “The longer weekends are very well received. With a longer break, it personally provides me with freedom to travel to London to enjoy and take part in the performing arts. In general, everyone feels more chilled, upbeat, happy, and refreshed.
“In terms of the business, we have seen a benefit across all areas – it was definitely a sound business decision.”
Every Friday I enjoy not setting an alarm
Staff at the manufacturer of end bands for scaffold boards previously worked 39 hours over five days but this was reduced earlier this year by five hours, with all staff on duty Monday to Thursday.
Laura Clarke, managing director, said investment in new machinery improved overall capacity while giving back time to the team.”
She said: “Initially, there were concerns around how our move would be received by customers but, when we ran our trial period, we managed to maintain lead times despite operating for five hours fewer.
“Many customers and suppliers have praised our move, even going as far to ask if they can have a job here.
She said the atmosphere at work had improved and there was something ‘incredibly smug’ about knowing you were halfway through the week on a Tuesday while team members had more autonomy over their lives and how they spent their free time, with some taking extra work elsewhere.
The hard numbers for the firm’s manufacturing volumes and the first two financial quarters are positive despite the drop in hours.
She said: “I would advise others thinking of doing this to brainstorm, speak to various people within teams, gather information and look at the business from as many different angles as possible.
“It might not be something you can do in the next few months or even this year but you could start to make changes.
“Businesses need to think outside the box, we need to be innovative as we shape the working landscape moving forward.”
How’s work been?
Nicholas Wall is a 28-year-old toolroom assistant and press operator at Chilwell Products.
“It’s nice to finish the working week on Thursday knowing you’ll come in on Monday to a fresh slate.
“This also makes me feel like I’m giving something back to the company as I appreciate they’ve given us more time to spend however I want.”
Nicholas said that, in previous roles with other employers, he felt he was rushing his evenings and weekends but had grown accustomed to it and had not noticed the effect this was having on him.
He added: “Only now that I’m more relaxed do I realise how frantic and pressured my personal life was.
“Every Friday I enjoy not setting an alarm, naturally waking up then heading to the gym to get a workout in and get it out the way.”
It’s not an easy process, but one we’re proud we took the time to implement
City to Sea
Bristol-based environmental organisation City to Sea has moved to a four-day working week without any reduction in pay for staff.
The community interest company employs 19 people, who are all now working a 32-hour week, but are being paid the same salary as when they worked for five days. The organisation, which campaigns to reduce plastic pollution, confirmed the move after running a four-day week trial over six months, and receiving positive feedback from staff. Now, every employee has Friday off.
Natalie Fee, chief executive and founder, said the top three challenges of implementing the four-day week were staff members feeling overstretched, managing work patterns and difficulties adjusting to reduced hours.
“We also found calculations around bank holidays and implications of those weeks being three days difficult to navigate,” she said.
However, she said the positives were staff motivation and increased wellbeing.
“It creates a much more balanced, healthier working environment and has resulted in increased staff engagement and staff retention. It’s not an easy process, but one we’re proud we took the time to test and implement.”
On the frontline
Steve Hynd, policy manager at City to Sea, who is 36 and is married with two children under five, says the move has been “completely transformative”.
“It’s not just the four days a week but also offering flexible working, having a really supportive line manager, and a host of other positive HR policies. This all combined is allowing me to spend more time with my two young kids, giving back to my community as a local district councillor and crucially (and very rarely) even having a bit of time for myself. It has removed the sense of being constantly over-stretched and has improved my mental and physical health significantly.”
Read more of our coverage on the four-day week: