Four-day week could become the norm in 10 years, research finds

CIPD report reveals third of employers believe the arrangement will become commonplace within the next decade, driven by improved wellbeing and boosted recruitment

Sinseeho/iStockphoto/Getty Images

A third (34 per cent) of organisations think the four-day working week will become a reality for most UK workers within the next 10 years, new research by the CIPD has found. 

The report, The four-day week: employer perspectives of moving to a shorter working week, revealed that currently only 10 per cent of firms have reduced working hours without reducing pay for the whole or a significant part of their workforce over the last five years. However, two in five (42 per cent) of those only did so because of the furlough scheme. 

The analysis, based on a survey of 2,000 employers and Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey data, found just 1 per cent of organisations that have not reduced hours without reducing pay for staff planned to do so in the next three years.

Will a four-day week actually work?

Masterclass: How to trial a four-day working week

Four-day week trial: what does HR need to know?

Karen Jansen, professor in leadership and change at Henley Business School, also equated the one in 10 who have shifted to a four-day-week to the pandemic, describing it as an “environmental jolt” for most organisations. 

“The pandemic has offered significant opportunities for organisational learning and introducing change, enabling companies to see first-hand the benefits of alternative hours and locations, and empowering employees to exert greater control over their work week,” said Jansen. She added that the new normal will include “greater flexibility and negotiated ways of working”. 

Published amid rising interest in the four-day week following the major UK trial launched earlier this year, the report also found that the majority of employers believed a shift to a four-day week without reducing pay would depend on their organisation improving its efficiency and working smarter (66 per cent) or firms boosting their adoption of technology (68 per cent).

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

Laura Kearsley, head of employment at Nelsons, said that the results did not necessarily mean organisations were on board with offering a four-day week, but that the war for talent may force their hand. 

“Employers are going to have to consider offering it to remain more competitive in the current market, whether they want to or not,” said Kearsley. “If you want to attract and retain talent and other employers are offering a four-day week option you are very quickly going to lose people.”  

She added that not all businesses were “excited by the idea”, but if it continued to gain momentum it would become an “inevitability” for businesses to stay competitive.

Indeed, the report found that among organisations who have reduced working hours, the main drivers were to increase employee wellbeing (36 per cent); because of decreased demand for products or services (32 per cent); or to help with recruitment and retention (30 per cent).

Claire-Louise Hall, interim head of HR and agile working at Citizens Advice Gateshead, who took part in the trial, said her organisation wanted to look at new ways of working and break out of “traditional, long-standing work practices and processes”. 

She added that employee wellbeing was the main focus as the company “wanted to find alternative ways of working, through a more flexible approach, that would have a positive impact on our team.” 

Jonathan Boys, senior labour market economist at the CIPD, said that while the rationale behind the four-day week was positive, many employers would have to adopt and adapt to new ways of working. 

“The major sticking point is the need to increase productivity by a whopping 25 per cent to make up for the output lost from fewer days of work,” said Boys. “This point came through in our findings with a majority of employers saying they would need to work smarter and adopt new technology in order to reduce working hours without cutting pay.”

Meanwhile, Henley Business School’s recent white paper found that more than three in five (66 per cent) workers believed working a four-day week would improve their mental wellbeing, and could benefit them during the cost-of-living crisis as they could get a second job. 

Dr Miriam Marra, associate professor of finance at Henley Business School added that some employees felt “enabled to undertake a second job,” with a four-day working week and that now more than ever, “time means money”.