Verses: Would A Four Day Week Improve Employee Productivity?

Verses: The Versed considers current social, cultural, and political issues and weighs up both sides of the argument.

The increasing number of people entering the UK’s ‘gig economy’ shows a movement away from conventional 9-5 employment toward more unconventional working patterns and flexible hours. As traditional working structures continue to fragment, is it time for the working week to be completely re-defined?

Advocates for four-day working weeks were around long before ‘apps’ that offer flexible working hours like Uber and Deliveroo. But could working one less day a week improve worker productivity or harm the profitability of business?

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The case for the four day week

Currently, the UK already enjoys several four-day working weeks thanks to the existence of bank holidays. But some believe the four day week should be a staple of British society.

Caroline Lucas of the Green Party proposed a maximum four day working week in her manifesto for the 2017 general election, as she believed that “when people are exhausted, their productivity goes down”.

“People are working ever more hours, getting ever more stressed, getting ever more ill-health – mental health problems as well” she said.

Although the four-day week may seem like an impossible dream for many workers in the UK, it’s already been trialed in other countries. In March 2018, a company in New Zealand introduced the policy for a six-week trial, to measure its effects on some 200 employees.

Andrew Barnes, the company’s CEO, is from the UK said of the trial, “from my point of view, it’s very difficult as an owner of a business to see any way that this is not positive for me at the moment.” After the six weeks, the trial was deemed an ‘Unmitigated success’ and Barnes is looking to implement the new working structure on a long-term basis.

As part of an investigation into working attitudes in the UK, The Versed collected data on nearly 1000 participants across the country and found that 68% of those asked would prefer to work four 10 hour days rather than five 8 hour days. The appetite for change is there.

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What a way to make a living

Despite its allure for employees and employers alike, there are reasons to be sceptical about the overall benefits of the four-day week especially if it means reduced working hours.

In France, the average hours worked in a week is around 35, whereas in the UK the limit is 48. France has a higher unemployment rate than the UK. In addition, a paper from the International Monetary fund suggested that the lower working hours in France didn’t increase happiness.

If the number of hours worked per week stayed the same (eg work would only be for 4 days a week but the hours worked on those days would be longer) there is also evidence to suggest that this could be detrimental to worker’s health.

Dr Judy Rose from Griffith University’s School of Education and Professional Studies compared women who had different working patterns. She found that the women who worked less days a week but with longer hours were far worse off than those who worked normal full time hours.

“I wanted to know if the women working a four-day week really were getting a better work-life balance, and I found out that no, they’re not” she said.

“They’re actually more stressed-out and more time-pressured than women working full-time, because though they’re working fewer days on paper they’re juggling the household, the housework, and still working a full-time load.”

The likelihood of a four day week being introduced in the UK any time soon is low. Currently, the main proponents of a four-day week in the UK are the Four Day Week Campaign who have been campaigning for its implementation for several years.

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