Following the world’s largest trial of a four-day working week, the vast majority of companies involved (56 out of 61) have chosen to continue with the new pattern. The idea is relatively straightforward: employees work four days a week and receive the same pay and benefits.
Proponents of the theory claim that a transformed economy no longer needs a five-day working week as it once did, allowing employers the opportunity to focus more on a culture of wellbeing and encouraging a healthy work-life balance. However, those against the shift are sceptical of whether it could improve or even maintain current productivity levels in the workplace.
To explore this further, we spoke to two members of the Sheffield business community who provided us with differing views on the subject.
Tim Elgar, Senior Consultant at Gradconsult
I love the idea of a four-day working week, and I absolutely believe in the benefits to productivity and recruitment that can come from offering a good work-life balance.
I’m fortunate enough to have hosted a couple of four-day week trials and have observed other organisations do them. The feedback I received from the people who took on the trial were that they really appreciated and enjoyed it. I appreciate, of course, that they might have had a vested interest in making those short-term trials work and whether it is sustainable on a long-term basis still remains to be seen.
But to be honest, I think it’s quite sad that we, as a society, still view a four-day working week as such a big deal. We’ve come a long way in the last five years or so in our approach to finding a work-life balance, and I think the next generation will certainly continue this trend. I also believe the studies that show how we’re not productive all of the time; I’d say that we’re really productive for about five hours a day.
There’s an issue in the fact that it doesn’t suit everyone’s working role or sector. For example, if you work in customer-facing services, then you have to be available at certain days and times. So I can see how for some organisations it could lead to potentially offering less of a service. As such, there are challenges here. The longitudinal aspect of this is that we don’t really know, but in my opinion, it seems to make absolute sense to explore further based on what we’ve seen so far.
The obsession with a five-day working week is essentially a social construct. Before that it was a six-day working week. There’s a school of thought out there that people working less than five days a week are part-time or somehow less committed to their work, but it’s clearly not the case. Hopefully the recent successful trials in the UK will begin to unpack these ingrained attitudes and examine them.
Gradconsult is an independent people and talent consultancy, with a particular specialism in the connection between employers and educators. Find out about what they do at gradconsult.co.uk.
Adam Bradley, Director at Corrosion Resistant Materials
I understand the potential of this in principle, and I can see benefits for employees with regards to feeling more refreshed and perhaps being more productive in a shorter timescale, but it just won’t work for some businesses.
We’re a small business, only thirteen of us work here, and being a manufacturing company means we’ve got saws running, deliveries that need to be made and customers sending enquiries all days of the current working week. To cut out a day would have a detrimental effect on customer service and some important jobs simply won’t get done in time.
In this industry we’re heavily reliant on our suppliers – machine shops, heat treaters, test labs – and if I was to ask people to stop working on Fridays, I’m cutting 20% of my week where we might be dealing with those suppliers and keeping things ticking over business-wise. It is pretty much a given that most manufacturing companies are closed on weekends; we’re driven by our customers’ needs and as such we have plenty to get through Monday to Friday.
Speaking from personal experience, when you first start a company, you’re trying to build up the brand, get the business in and attract fresh customers. If a customer asked if they could come and grab something on a Sunday, I would go in and open up. Thankfully, we’re in the position now where we’ve grown and can afford to be a bit more selective; but when you’re growing a business in this type of industry, you’ve got to do what you can, when you can. You can’t just say that you’re not going to touch anything for three days a week.
If we spread the shift patterns out, I suppose we could just about make it work on paper. But, ultimately, I think paying an employee the same amount of money to work fewer hours would mean that I’d have to employ more people to cover it. Perhaps a bigger company with 50 or 60 members of staff could make that work, but it’s not really a viable option for us.
Corrosion Resistant Materials are specialist technical materials suppliers based in South Yorkshire. Find out more at corrosion-resistant-materials.co.uk.
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