How many hours do you work in your business each week – 40, 50, 60 or more? If I told you that a recent survey from global HR organisation, ADP, reported that 61% of its 10,000 respondees would prefer a 4-day working week, over their current 5-day week, you’d probably not be that surprised – I mean, who wouldn’t want an extended weekend? As a local recruitment agency, we see this sort of thing all the time. But if I told you that it was ‘employers’ rather than employees who were leading the charge, then, if you’re anything like me, you’d be intrigued and want to find out why…
A 4-day working week has been a hot topic in the boardrooms and breakout spaces of companies up and down the UK for years, and where we work in Hertfordshire it’s something that comes up in conversations and within the recruitment process time and again with both clients and candidates. The question I have is why now, why has the popularity of this movement soared so high in 2019?
The answer, in my view, is part political, part insightful and part logical.
The political answer
In September 2018, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, endorsed the 4-day working week saying: “In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. So, for the 21st century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone…” Then two months later John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, commissioned economist Robert Skidelsky to head an enquiry into the four-day working week to determine whether it should become an official Labour Party policy, something Momentum has been pushing for. Interestingly, Mr Skidelsky’s report is due out sometime this month, so watch this space because we’ll probably do a follow-up article on its findings. Recruitment agencies have adapted each time a change as significant as the ones listed above occurred, but not all change is good, so we wanted to discover whether a four-day working week would be a blessing or a curse, which leads us to the insightful answer.
The insightful answer
Those we’ve listened to on the pro side of the argument have cited a number of benefits which have included:
- Lower pollution. The commute to work – lorries, cars, taxis – not to mention the strain on the energy sector for lighting, heating and the magic that makes our laptops work, all creates pollution. Fewer days at work en masse means lower pollution, which surely would be better for the environment.
- More time to do good. With an extra day in hand people could be encouraged to do more useful things with their time – to look after an elderly relative or a friend who’s not well, to do charitable work, to clean up local green spaces to make them more inviting, to volunteer at your local recruitment agency (we could always do with more help), etc. The extra day could help make us more generous and more connected.
- Greater innovation. If you had more time what would you do with it? Some have cited wanting to learn to play an instrument, to visit places they’ve never been to before, to travel, or to take up or get better at a hobby or sport. The extra day could help to expand our horizons, to encourage us to try new things. The effect on an employee is that a more stimulated mind is better prepared for innovation at work.
- The result of all the above is happier employees who are more focused and committed to their work, and, it could even be a way of attracting the best talent to your company.
The logical answer
A work-life balance is something people have been talking about since the 1980s, or at least that’s when I understand it was included in everyday business-speak. But have we actually moved any distance towards this aspiration, or has it stayed just that – an aspiration? Today we seem to work longer hours and expect more from our staff than we did in the ’80s, so where’s the balance? Happier staff make for more productive staff. A two-year experiment in Scandinavia trialled a shorter working day. They noticed some astounding results, with just two hours off the standard workday they saw lower absenteeism, fewer sick days and greater productivity. So, from a recruitment agency’s perspective there’s certainly a logical answer to this question as well.
Some even more surprising stats from the ADP survey reveal that 45% of those asked said they’d be prepared to work longer hours on four days to have that fifth day off work. And, just over one in six said they would be prepared to sacrifice a portion of their salary in order to have that extra day off a week.
So, with the potential for happier, more productive, more innovative staff who take less unplanned time off work, the four-day working week seems to have plenty of upsides.
If you have a business in Hitchin, Letchworth, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City or anywhere else in Hertfordshire and you’ve been looking for ways to attract more motivated staff to your business in order to achieve higher targets or to improve morale, from a recruitment agency’s perspective, the four-day week has a certain draw.