Henley Business School (HBS) has recently produced a White Paper presenting its research and findings on the benefits of a four-day working week. The White Paper provides an update to its 2019 report Four Better or For Worse? which explored the four day week as a relatively new concept at the time. However, a new large-scale trial of the four day week, which is set to launch in the UK in June 2022, has put the proposition of the four day week firmly in the spotlight.

The UK pilot is being organised and coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community founded in 2018. Its CEO Joe O’Connor attributed the demand for the trial to a range of factors including the pandemic, the ‘Great Resignation’ and the war for talent. Similar pilots are being run in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  

The pilot is being run in partnership with UK think tank, Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign and researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Boston College. Set to launch in June of this year the trial will run for 6 months, with over 60 companies in over 30 sectors putting into practice a model of working 80% of their usual hours with the same pay. Full details of the pilot can be found here.

So is a four day week really workable in practice? The research conducted by HBS in its White Paper finds a range of benefits for both employers and employees from adopting a four day working week including:

  • Increased productivity
  • Ability to save costs
  • Improved ability to attract and retain talent
  • Reduced levels of employee stress
  • Reduced carbon emissions with fewer people commuting to work
  • A happier workforce

However this doesn’t mean that there aren’t downsides. Issues raised by respondents included:

  • Concerns about being able to meet customer demand
  • Reduced employee availability potentially leading to a need to employ more staff
  • The logistical difficulties around managing a four day week
  • Possible resentment amongst employees where it was not possible to offer a four day week to everyone

Compelling pros and cons - so is the four day week as a realistic alternative to the standard five day week?

Well, the cost savings reported in the White Paper will certainly be tempting for some businesses – 66% of employers offering a four day week reported a reduction in costs and a four day week for five days’ pay will be popular with employees so recruitment and retention benefits are a given. Equally the impact of the pandemic means the flexibility genie is now out of the bottle as to where and when work can be done so it’s a bold employer which makes no concession to this. That said, the shift in mind-set to make the four day week a commonplace work pattern is a big one. Has the impact of the past two years exhausted our appetite for change or is this merely the start? We await the results of the trial with interest.