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Why a four-day week will have a positive impact on employee well-being and productivity


by Karen Pearson News

Why a four-day week will have a positive impact on employee well-being and productivity

In light of this week’s World Mental Health Day, it was interesting to see some of the latest figures coming out from the TUC in relation to work-related stress.

According to the TUC, workers in the UK put in 2.1bn unpaid hours last year.  So, when we start to look up what impact this is having on people’s health & wellbeing we find that last year 12.5 million work days were lost as a result of work-related stress, depression or anxiety with the biggest single cause attributed to high workloads.

Therefore, the renewed call for a four-day week by organisations such as the thinktank Autonomy Institute and the TUC may just be one of the solutions we need in the UK to improve employee wellbeing and mental health in the workplace.

The Guardian reported some of the views from Will Stronge, Director at Autonomy Institute citing that “We want to shift people’s perspectives to better work and less work”.

The research coming from the thinktank is finding that we have a “deeply unhealthy distribution” of work.  There are workers who are working too much which is leading to negative impacts on wellbeing and health, which is alongside 3.3 million or so “underemployed” workers who want and need more hours.  Research argues that a four-day week would force a redistribution of these hours for the benefit of everyone.

This comes at a time where more and more evidence shows us that working fewer hours increases creativity and engagement – resulting in higher productivity and fewer sick days.

Organisations need to start grasping the changes required to ensure workplaces are fit for purpose and work both for the business and the diverse range of workers within it.

An organisation that can embrace these new ways of working are going to create sustainable and ethical workplaces of the future.

Modern workplaces are ever changing and diverse environments which means it is more important than ever that employers think outside of the 9 to 5, 5-day week traditional model and start building flexible and agile workforces that can meet the new demands of the 21st century.

As the TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady stated at the recent annual conference “When the TUC’s first congress took place 150 years ago, people worked ten hours a day with only Sunday off.  But in the last century, we won a two-day weekend and limits on long hours” This century we must raise our sights to reduce working time again.  If productivity gains from technology are even half as good as is promised, then the country can afford to make working lives better”

So how can we move to a four-day week?  Perhaps some initial ideas would be:

  • Make a start by looking at what gains the business has and can make through technology. 

  • As part of this review gain an understanding as to whether five days’ worth of productivity and output can realistically be achieved in four days because of an increase in productivity levels and reducing absence rates. 

  • Review current hours of the workforce and maximize on flexible working practices.

  • Train managers to ensure they understand and are fully committed to flexible and agile working practices.

The most important aspect here when considering a move to a four-day week is to make sure it is feasible, and the organisation can see what the benefits are.  It would not be a good place to be offering a four-day week if it meant people would receive a salary reduction, particularly for low incomes.

I believe the only way this will work and be successful is if the organisation is prepared to invest the potential gains back to the employees.  For this to happen there is going to have to be a complete mindset change that understands that it is about working smarter not harder.

But I also believe that the organisations that grasp and run with this new world of working will reap the rewards in the future as we continue to work in the ever-changing and dynamic 21st century.