The four-day week was, at one time, nothing more than a pipe dream – something which seemed inconceivable. But, the recent changes we’ve seen to our working lives mean that perhaps the four-day week is no longer a distant dream. It was only a few short months ago that asking to work from home felt like an uncomfortable request, and now to many it’s the norm. With all the adjustments we’ve made in the last year, now could be the perfect time to continue exploring and embracing change.  

The five-day, 40-hour week we’ve become accustomed to hasn’t always existed – it’s something we’ve just become used to, like wearing a seatbelt or not smoking indoors. In the early 1900s the reduction of a six-day week to a five-day week was just as radical. At the time, the change was largely down to the advance in technology allowing for more work in less time. Despite the leaps and bounds in technology over the last decade, our working pattern remains.  

When six-day weeks became five-day weeks, Henry Ford was quoted as saying: 

“Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products.” 

The sentiment is still true. People deserve, and need, enough free time to enjoy the rewards of their efforts. So, with all these new tools to help us work smarter and faster, why are we not enjoying the freedom of more time?  

The majority of the time, it comes down to culture. Until recently, there were often misconceptions that unless you were in the office for your designated 40 hours then you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, produce your best work. The pandemic has helped to prove that location doesn’t equal productivity, with many companies proving that introducing remote working options helped boost both productivity and happiness. The next step is to understand that time doesn’t equal productivity.  

In the simplest of terms, busy, stressed employees are too busy and stressed to perform at their best. Employees who have more time to dedicate to things they enjoy – seeing family and friends, hobbies, learning new skills – come back to work refreshed, energised and ready to work. And, an employee who is refreshed, energised and ready to work is likely to be more productive in four days than a busy, stressed employee will be in five.  

A growing number of companies are trialling a four-day arrangement, with impressive results – Microsoft Japan saw a 40% uplift in productivity. The benefits extend beyond productivity, too. Research from Henley Business School found that employees working a four-day week were happier (78%), less stressed (70%) and took fewer sick days (62%). 63% of businesses said a four-day week helped them attract and retain talent. Plus, UK businesses have already saved an estimated £92billion with four-day working weeks.  

So how does it work from a practical stance? A common approach is the 100-80-100 model. Employees are paid 100% of their compensation package, for 80% of the time spent at work, with 100% of agreed outcomes delivered. A four-day week doesn’t mean that employees are producing less work, or ‘skiving off’. It just means using time more efficiently, removing time-wasting, unproductive tasks and allowing employees to deliver the same outcomes faster, rewarding them with an extra day to focus on what’s important to them.  

Of course, it isn’t always that simple. Unless there’s a global shift to recognise four-day weeks as a common way of working, stating that your whole team is unavailable on Fridays could lead to some unhappy clients. To mitigate this some businesses ensure every day is covered by using A and B teams, splitting days off between different teams or departments.  

However you look at it, the tools we have at our fingertips mean a four-day week is certainly more feasible than it was a few years ago. A shift in mindset to rewarding employees for outputs not hours could benefit businesses and workers, and could be another key step towards working happy.   

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