Is the four-day week the key to work-life balance?

By Faye Gilling

5 October 2023
5 min read

Work-life balance is fast becoming a top priority for employees and employers alike, across the continent. So much so that some of our European counterparts have scrapped the traditional 9-5 entirely, in favour of a much more flexible and wellbeing friendly four-day structure. But is a more punctuated work week the silver bullet to banish burnout?

A recent UK four-day working week trial concluded that it might possibly be! Almost 3,000 employees and 60 organisations took part in the six-month trial, garnered from a range of different industries. From chippy to blue chip, gaming to brewing, the trail included a healthy cross-section of workers to understand the benefits a four-day working week might present. Such as:

No reduction in pay

While employees will benefit from a three-day weekend and shorter working week, that doesn’t mean their pay is cut by 20 per cent. A true four-day working week means working fewer hours for the same pay (as the traditional 9-5).

The only downfall we see is that with more days of leisure on the horizon, employees might need to reign in their jubilation and watch the pennies, otherwise those pay packets could quickly diminish.

Expectations are shifted

Unlike compressing 37 hours into fewer days, the four-day working week is a reduction of total hours worked each week. Therefore, workers aren’t expected to cram in everything they usually would if they were on a flexible or compressed working pattern; they simply work the required hours each day, for four days. With no cut in pay.

By reducing the number of hours worked each week, the trial found that wellbeing was improved, as employees simply had more time to rest and spend time with their families.

Grind culture begone

Impossible deadlines, toxic work practices and archaic standards of productivity have a lot to answer for and sometimes go hand in hand with the five-day working week. The four-day working week puts an end to the glorification of grind culture and turns the emphasis on working smarter not harder.

Productivity is not a direct result of long hours, it’s down to effective prioritisation. Working a four-day week means doing things differently, and that means effectively managing time, rather than time managing employees – resulting in fewer instances of burnout.

The trial showed that the four-day week trial resulted in a 70% reduction in burnout. 7 in 10 participants reported lower levels of burnout, compared to traditional working patterns.

Fewer sick days

In the UK employees take on average five sick days per year, the financial impact this has on employers reaches almost £800 per employee annually. In 2021, this reached an all-time high, compared to stats from the past decade. This not only impacts the business as a whole, but piles on the pressure of colleagues picking up workload when their peer is absent.

In the trial it was found that there was a 65 per cent reduction in the number of sick days taken. Of course, there’s an element of relativity within this, as the less time spent in the office the less need to take a day off, however, the same can be said for wellbeing; does a more balanced work-life approach improve mental and physical wellbeing so much so that overall health is improved?

Among nearly 3,000 employees, 71 per cent reported feeling reduced levels of burnout; there were also improvements in physical health and wellbeing. ( source)

Staying power

The trail found that employees working four days a week, were less likely to quit their jobs. Employers offering four-day working week packages, currently have the upper hand as employees that have become accustom to rolling three-day weekends are, naturally, reluctant to revert to the former. Therefore, ware more likely to stay put.

Results showed that ‘the number of staff leaving their job (at participating organisations) decreased significantly, dropping by 57 per cent. For many, the positive effects of a four-day week were worth more than their weight in money. 15 per cent of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over the four-day week to which they were now accustomed.’ (source)

Revenue could increase

Of course, while we’ve provided lots of compelling evidence that reveals the benefits to employees, there are some considerable perks for employers considering creating a more flexible working environment. Not only can it boost retention (see previous), it can also attract employees as a serious perk.

But when it comes to the bottom line, the trial uncovered more business benefits. While those participating in the trial recorded broadly similar revenue over six months, rising marginally by 1.4% on average (weighted by company size). When compared year on year, organisations reported revenue increases of 35% on average – which speaks for itself.

Would you consider a four-day working week?

There’s no question that there are many benefits to introducing a four-day working week. Not only does the trial indicate that productivity is enhanced, but the wellbeing of employees is considerably improved. Overall, across all organisations, the most impactful benefits of the trial were employees’ wellbeing, where 39 per cent of employees were less stressed and 71 per cent had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial.

And, the all-important work-life balance was boosted! Employees within the trail found it easier to balance their work with both family and social commitments and, for 54 per cent, it was easier to balance work with household jobs, leading to more satisfaction when it comes to household finances, relationships and how their time was being managed.

This article is based on results cited in the following:

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Written By:

Faye Gilling
Faye is the Marketing & Communications Lead at Halifax Opportunities Trust.