Following the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen employers across the world adopt more flexible working policies, which have been championed by employees who have found that measurers such as working from home and ‘flexi-time’ policies have resulted in an enhanced work-life balance, greater productivity and reduced ‘burn out’.

The results of the world’s largest 4-day working week trial to date, which was coordinated by ‘4 Day Week Global’ with support from ‘Autonomy’, has further challenged the arguably archaic idea that working more equates to higher quality and more efficient work.

Results of The Trial

Throughout June 2022 to December 2022, 61 companies and approximately 2,900 workers took part in a pilot study, trialling a 4-day working week.

Each of the companies involved in the trial had their own reduced work policy, which was tailored to the individual needs of the company rather than there being strict and rigid requirements. The only requirement was that the companies had to continue to provide 100% pay to employees whilst having a ‘meaningful’ reduction in their work time. Therefore, the trial saw a variation between companies as to how they achieved the reduction in employees’ work time, such as some companies shutting down operations for an additional day a week and others having employees taking alternating days off.

Examples of the positive results of the study, which compared statistics in a comparison period to the trial period, are as follows:

  • a 35% average increase in revenue,

  • a 57% decline in employee resignations from the comparison period,

  • a 65% decline in employee absences,

  • 39% of employees reported being less stressed,

  • 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout,

  • 54% of employees reported a reduction in negative emotions,

  • 37% of employees reported improvements in physical health,

  • 46% of employees reported a reduction in fatigue.

It is important to note that not all of the results were positive. 22% of employees reported a higher burn out score and 13% of employees experienced an increase in stress. However, when the employees were asked whether they would want to continue with a 4-day week trial, 90% said that they definitely wanted to continue.

18 of the 61 participating companies have said that they would remain with the 4-day working week on a permanent basis and a further 38 organisations said that they are going to continue with the trial.

Is a 4-day working week right for my company?

Whether a 4-day working week is suitable for a company will be dependent on the individual circumstances of the company and will differ on a case by case basis. However, some of the considerations to be made by companies are as follows:

  • A 4-day working week is more suited to some industries than others. In healthcare organisations, 24/7 patient care is often required. Therefore, organisations would need to consider the logistics of maintaining around the clock care whilst also reducing employees’ work time. This could perhaps be solved by alternating shift patterns amongst employees to ensure that operating hours are not affected.

  • Permanently changing employees’ working hours would mean that their employment contracts would need to be varied. Both parties to the contract would have to consent in order for the change to take legal effect, which means that if changes were implemented without the agreement of an employee, they could consequently bring a claim for breach of contract against their employer or resign and allege constructive dismissal.

  • Some employees may find that having to complete the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time is very stressful and unachievable. Therefore, the necessary support and assistance would have to be given to such employees in order to avoid absences, grievances and resignations.

  • There could be risks of discrimination claims being brought against employers by part-time employees whose pro-rata pay is calculated based on their reduced working hours. Employers may need to offer the same pay to part-time employees or offer them further reduced hours in order to avoid potential claims.

The Working Time Regulations (Amendment) Bill

Labour MP Peter Dowd introduced a bill in December 2022, named the ‘Working Time Regulations (Amendment) Bill’, which is currently awaiting second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill proposes to reduce the maximum working hours per week from 48 hours per week to 32 hours per week with no reduction in pay. Under the Bill, overtime payments are also to be made at a rate not less than 1.5 times the worker’s ordinary rate of pay where a worker works in excess of 32 hours per week. It is anticipated that the results of the 4-day working week trial will be brought to the attention of Members of Parliament when considering the Bill.

Only time will tell whether the Bill is successful, but if it is, employers may have to consider implementing the necessary measures and protocols to ensure the smooth running of their organisations whilst also adhering to the reduction in employees’ work time.

Farleys Solicitors are experts in advising both private and public sector employers on a wide range of employment law and HR matters. For advice and assistance contact our expert employment and HR team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.