With demand and cost challenges in the COVID era, many companies are considering moving to a 4 day week. SWGS Partner, Tozers LLP, outlines some key issues that should be considered.
Implementing a 4 day work week
Posted on 1st March, 2021 in General
Remote working has become a staple for many businesses due to the exponential growth in working from home following Government advice this year. While many firms may already have had home working implemented, the majority have had to learn to work with it in some shape or form.
As businesses overcome the challenges remote working brings and identify the positives that this change is making for both colleagues and their productivity some firms are considering more significant change.
Stephen Jennings, Head of Tozers’ Employment Team, has seen an increase in requests for advice in relation to 4 day working weeks, with firms of all sizes, including multinational businesses, exploring the concept. For example Unilever is the latest organisation to take up the 4 day working week concept.
Stephen says, “Many firms recognise the potential a 4-day working week has in developing positive outcomes, which can include helping recruitment and staff retention, reducing burnout and sickness absences, as well as increasing productivity”.
Stephen adds, “These benefits are positive goals to aim for, and in looking to achieve these outcomes it is important for any business to think through the potential negatives or key considerations in its implementation. We would strongly encourage any business to think through how it will work in practice, and to engage with employees in planning out these practical points so that employees really feel involved in the process, and the employer sets up the best possible conditions to encourage it to work”.
So, where to start when considering a 4-day working week? Stephen suggests the following points are a good place to begin when starting to consider this change;
Consider the type of work being done
Some businesses may have a requirement to provide services during ‘normal’ office hours, which would mean introducing rotas and considering handovers etc. Others may have work which can require an urgent turnaround. There may be real practical difficulties in these scenarios.
What happens with the extra day?
Much may also depend on what the employees do with their extra day; e.g. if they just use it to take another job, it would be fair to assume any productivity gains would be reduced. Moving to 4-day weeks may therefore benefit those who will actually do something different with their extra day, not those paid at the lowest level who may take on new responsibilities. Employers cannot of course control how employees spend their time off but it may be sensible to take soundings in advance to see what employees are likely to do with their extra day. A related point is considering flexibility in terms of which day will be taken off; can the employer change this to suit its needs?
The consequences of working overtime
There are considerations about overtime here, especially with increased home-working. Does the quantity of work or capacity enable this to work? If workload doesn’t decrease, will employees simply end up working evenings and weekends, or the new day-off to keep up? Will employees actually get to enjoy increased time off, and see the benefits? Otherwise this will may actually disincentivise employees resentful of not being able to take the extra time they have been promised.
How to measure its success
How is productivity to be measured? How will the employer gauge success or failure? If this isn’t carefully managed, the employer just ends up paying 20% over the odds for a reduced amount of work. This is where the success of a 4-day working week will come down to how well its managed, and the employer’s flexibility in tailoring the idea to fit its own business.
What if a 4-day working week doesn’t work?
What happens if after moving to a 4-day working week, and analysing its success a business finds that it doesn’t work, or only partially works? Employers moving to this model may wish to do so on a trial basis that gives them sufficient flexibility to tweak or even roll back the scheme, either in whole or for certain areas of the business, if it doesn’t work. Such a decision may be unpopular though; ideally clear criteria for measuring success would be agreed at the outset with employees so that there is transparency and the basis on which decisions are made is understood.
Moving to a 4-day working week is a risk. That doesn’t mean it is a bad decision; if properly planned and implemented then it could be a great decision. If you do go down this route we would love to hear from you about how it went – but not on your non-working day!
For more information please talk to our dedicated Employment team.