Can less really mean more? World’s biggest trial of four-day week gets underway!
Over 3,000 people across 70 companies in the UK are expected to take part in a 6-month pilot scheme of the four-day working week.
The scheme, which launched on 13 June 2022, is being coordinated by ‘4 Day Week Global’, in conjunction with Autonomy (a UK based think tank) and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, with research involvement from Oxford and Cambridge universities and Boston College.
The pilot scheme is based on the 100:80:100 model – 100% of pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity. According to 4 Day Week Global, allowing employees an additional day off per week would be mutually beneficial and needn’t impact productivity. They cite benefits such as decreased employee stress levels, better work-life balance and increased employee and team engagement, as well as financial savings and a reduction in carbon emissions. It could also lead to a more diverse range of applicants e.g., those individuals who have found the traditional five days per week model to be a barrier to entering the workplace (such as for childcare reasons). Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented shift by many to hybrid working, 4 Day Week Global also suggest that employers who choose to embrace and ultimately implement the proposal could – amidst a testing time for recruiters – position themselves at the forefront of flexible and forward-thinking working practices thereby helping them to retain and attract the best.
Too good to be true? Perhaps. But what issues could an employer face if they were to embrace and ultimately implement the 100:80:100 model?
For employers, there are potential legal issues that could arise from any decision to implement the 100:80:100 model of work. Doing so could amount to a contractual variation necessitating a business case and consultation exercise. In embarking on implementation, employers would need to consider part-time staff and avoid any disadvantage to them by choosing to implement the 100:80:100 model. Notably, they’d need to consider whether part-time should see their rate of pay equalised if their formerly ‘full time’ colleagues begin working 80% of the time for 100% of the pay. This might be the case in retail or hospitality environments. Not considering the impact on part-time staff could lead to claims of discrimination, and those risks could be exacerbated further still if those employees are female and have worked in that way for childcare purposes.
Conversely, employers would need to consider employees who choose to retain the five days per week model – should the decision be taken to stop short of implementing the 100:80:100 model across the board and to operate an opt-in/opt-out system instead. Some might argue that they’re unable to work compressed hours over four days owing to other commitments. For example, some employees might find that they are already struggling to juggle work and home over five days, let alone four. Employers would then need to be careful in seeking to incentivise the 100:80:100 model which could adversely impact employees who find they cannot opt in.
Practically, employers would need to consider meeting demand (i.e., customers/ clients/ stakeholders) and they might need to consider operating a shift system to ensure the business is adequately covered from Monday to Friday in industries where each of those days are considered ‘business days’.
Employers would also need to consider how to measure productivity and indeed how to allocate work. This might be the case in professional service environments where emphasis is usually on billable hours and meeting targets. The provision of new or existing benefits and bonuses might also need to be considered meticulously where some staff are engaged on the 100:80:100 model and others remain on the five days per week model. Additional care would also need to be taken to ensure the health and welfare of staff embarking on compressed hours and to mitigate the worst effects of stress and possible burnout.
The 100:80:100 model of work, coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, could herald a new era of working smarter, and not harder. However, there’s a real risk staff could also find themselves working much harder over a shorter period of time, which could then trigger the very problems that model seeks to address (i.e. increased stress, compromised work-life balance and low employee/team engagement).
Balancing the benefits and drawbacks of the 100:80:100 model of work is likely to vary considerably from business to business, industry to industry. The consequential issues too for any employer seeking to implement it either in full or in part will be heavily dependent on the relevant business and industry in question, thereby heightening the need for appropriate legal advice.