Would a four-day working week solve our problem with productivity?

Wednesday November 27, 2019

Monday mornings. You may be ready to jump straight into the week ahead, but you’ll likely encounter at least one person who wants to know how your weekend was, or tell you about theirs. Even up until mid-week, it can still be a distraction.

Employees will swap stories about what they got up to. With the ones who had a quiet couple of days often being envied by the working parents who squeeze leisure time between kids’ parties. Or the overloaded project managers who take work home every single weekend.

No matter how a weekend was spent, there is usually consensus on one thing. And that is that just one more day off would have made it perfect.

So what does this tell us? Is the weekend too short? Are we working too much? Or perhaps there is something else that we aren’t getting quite right.

The history of the weekend

With Sunday long identified as a holy day of rest, the first signs of the weekend as we know it can be traced back to the 19th Century. This could also have been the birth of the Monday blues. For those that chose to spend their Sunday in a knees-up celebrating the working week’s end, found turning up for work on Monday somewhat of a struggle. In fact for a brief period, Mondays became known as ‘Saint Mondays’, reserved for workers wanting some recuperation or leisure time.

However this practice didn’t work so well for employers who reported a dip in productivity. And some chose to close their businesses earlier on a Saturday to counteract the problem of Saint Mondays. From then on, Saturday afternoons became prime leisure time and the introduction of the 3pm kick-off for the football was a welcome break from work.

Full Saturdays did not form part of the weekend until the 20th Century, when it was decided that Jewish workers should be entitled to celebrate the holy Shabbat. And thus the 48-hour weekend as we know it was born.

The idea of the four-day working week

Back to the present day and some people think that the five-day work week is outdated for the 21st Century. Not only have there been discussions of a four-day working week for some time, but some countries have already run trials to this effect. So what did they discover?

Microsoft‘s month-long trial in Japan, which involved longer hours over four days, resulted in happier employees and a 40% increase in productivity. Additionally, the company was able to save money on overheads such as electricity. Another four-day work week trial which took place in New Zealand saw employees less stressed, more productive and able to achieve a better work-life balance.

Not all trials to cut down have produced promising results, however. Sweden’s two-year trial to reduce weekly working hours, albeit over a five-day week, proved to be too expensive to be deemed a success. They did however admit to seeing a boost in productivity during the trial.

Could it solve our productivity problem?

British employees work longer hours than most countries in Europe, and yet we still have a problem with productivity. So could a four-day work week be the answer? After this month’s first televised leaders’ debate, we know that Jeremy Corbyn seems to think so.

Whilst a three-day weekend has clear benefits for work-life balance, it could result in longer working days which are known to be a key cause of stress. Could it also be avoiding underlying problems with workload, time management and resilience? Perhaps there is only one way to find out.

Can a four-day working week work for your business?

Even without a nationwide trial, we are certain that a four-day work week will not yet be beneficial for all companies or industries. But we do believe that, at the very least, increased flexibility can have substantial benefits for both a business and its workforce.

Finding a way to provide flexible working can reduce employee stress, improve work-life balance, increase productivity and see happier and healthier employees coming to work each day.

If you’d like to introduce flexible working to your business or want to ask more about how a four-day working week might, well, work; ask us. We’ll make sure your actions are legally compliant and put your business first.



    Preventing People Problems

    Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

    Office Address: HR Dept Highlands, IVTwo, Sir Walter Scott Drive, Inverness, IV2 3BW | VAT Number: 365 6916 59 | Registration Number: SC596802

    Copyright © 2007 - 2020 The HR Dept Ltd. HR DEPT is a registered trademark belonging to The HR Dept Limited.

    Please complete your details and we will be in touch soon.

    If you are an employee please click here.