Jobseekers prefer flexibility over four-day week, research suggests

New data finds workers would favour a role that offered more general flexible working despite a shorter week pilot being underway

Jetta Productions/Blend Images LLC/Getty Images

Jobseekers would rather have flexible working over a four-day working week despite a third of employers already cutting a day off the traditional five-day arrangement, according to new research.

The study of more than 2,000 UK workers, by recruitment company Reed, found that ‘flexible working’ was the phrase on a job advert that would most likely make workers apply, with 45 per cent saying it would convince them. A four-day day week comes just behind (40 per cent), with working from home third, and the opportunity to progress further down still.

The findings come a month after the start of a four-day week pilot, involving 3,300 workers across 70 UK firms, which aims to test the benefits of a four-day working pattern – which are said to include a better quality of life for employees and improved focus on business outputs over inputs.

Majority of public sector workers want to keep flexible working, research shows

Flexible working could help 1.3 million more people into work, analysis suggests

How HR can make flexible working truly successful

However, though Reed’s data shows that 89 per cent of workers are in favour of a four-day week, James Reed, chairman of Reed, explained that this model is, at least not yet, a talent attraction or workplace panacea.

He said: “Our research suggests that [the four-day week] may not be the best or most popular way for businesses to attract and retain top talent.

“The National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work has suggested that cramming five days’ work into four might contribute to stress. Instead, offering greater flexibility could be more impactful and more popular.”

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and co-founder of The Work Consultancy, similarly believes that a four-day week can result in work intensification, if implemented poorly, which can lead to wellbeing and social interaction issues.

Instead, she said that companies should consider offering workers more autonomy in order to improve work outcomes. “Flexible working is how they get this. Four-day weeks still place a significant emphasis on time when what we need to be thinking about is outcomes of work,” she added.

“Full flexibility moves away from people being tied to set days and hours and this could ultimately be more empowering than a shift in contractual hours.”

However, more than a quarter (27 per cent) of employers, in addition to the third already implementing a four-day working week, are considering moving to this model, citing reasons such as a better work-life balance for their workforce, making employees happier, achieving better engagement and improving productivity. 

Indeed, research from Henley Business School found that businesses could save a combined £104bn by implementing a four-day week.

That said, Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR, has found that through his own experiments with a four-day week work can build up and employees may choose different fallow days which can cause some workflow issues.

He said: “I think a four-day working week may well be possible, but that a different working pattern is more achievable (think 30 hours across five days to mirror school hours), and more stakeholders could benefit.”

Cookson continued that if HR does have serious plans to achieve better productivity and make good on what employees want, then it should start making “more noise” about reducing working hours, better understanding how this would affect productivity, and start being more experimental in their thinking.

“We could also start talking to other business leaders about how the business could look and work differently if reduced hours took effect, and lead on the organisational design principles that would flow from this,” he added.