Recruitment & HR

Until recently, the five-day week was so entrenched in the workplace that many of us were grateful to get away from the office by 5pm.

However, change is in the air. 

A recruitment market now driven by candidates – dubbed ‘the great resignation’ – has seen companies scrambling to attract and retain staff, with flexible working high on the wishlist of a post-COVID workforce now conscious of a different approach.

So rapidly has this advanced that in June the UK government launched the world’s largest four-day workweek trial, with 70 companies and 3,300 workers signed up.

Organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with thinktank Autonomy, the campaign will see researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College examine the impact of reducing working hours – with no reduction in pay – over a six-month period. 

“As a Gen X female, I know what crazy work-life balance juggling feels like,” Charlotte Lockhart (pictured), co-founder of 4 Day Week Global, tells BusinessCloud. “I’ve worked long hours, compromised time with family, friends and for myself and burnt out. And for what? 

“As I reflect on life, I realise that there is absolutely another way. I often say to business leaders: we need to remember that we borrow our people from their lives.”

When Lockhart and fellow founder Andrew Barnes introduced a four-day workweek into their New Zealand estate planning business Perpetual Guardian in 2018 – running academic research alongside the trial – she says it became clear that ways of working could be improved and reduced, without any loss in pay or productivity.

After receiving “waves of attention” from around the world, they launched not-for-profit coalition 4 Day Week Global.

“To be honest, the movement came to us,” she explains. “We had thousands of people contact us, and we answered the call. Once it became clear this was not just a phase, we started to put structure behind it, a company and a foundation, and we now employ six staff around the globe to support us.

“This is now our main philanthropy because we believe in it so much.”

The ‘100-80-100’ principle

The principle is termed ‘100-80-100’, a rule which gives businesses the flexibility to manage all staff to a reduced-hours model, including part-time workers: 100% pay, for 80% time, delivering 100% productivity. 

Despite the label of a four-day week, therefore, it doesn’t simply mean ‘take every Friday off’. “What is important is for businesses to work in partnership with their people to find a way to improve productivity and reduce work time in a way that suits the business, the staff and the customers,” says Lockhart.

IN4 Talent, based at MediaCityUK in Salford, is a specialist recruitment partner to fastest-growing tech and digital businesses in the North West of England. Director Andy Almond says implementing flexible working can help to both attract and retain staff – provided it is done right.

IN4 Talent – your unique talent ecosystem

“The challenge is in the implementation: ensuring the behaviour within the organisation, from the top down, supports employees to move over to a very different way of working. It’s vital to be clear around the expectations,” he says.

Companies participating in the trial range from tech companies such as blockchain-based supply chain platform Everledger and data visualisation platform Sensat, to a local chippy.

“There are businesses doing four-day or reduced hours weeks from most industries,” adds Lockhart.

Ditch the meetings

Another tech firm involved in the nationwide UK trial is Nottingham-based Adzooma, which is a client of IN4 Talent. Jen Lecomber-Peace (pictured below), HR manager at the digital marketing software provider, was an advocate for a four-day workweek before she joined last October.

“After maternity leave, I operated at HR manager level on a part-time basis – four days a week – for roughly four years,” she tells BusinessCloud. “But I did five days’ worth of work in those four days.

“Without a doubt, I was no less productive. I just had to be more clever with my time, a little more ruthless as to which meetings I attended – and that’s not a bad thing! 

“But under that model, I was paid a day less than those working five days – even though I don’t believe my output was any less.”

Jen Lecomber-Peace, HR manager, Adzooma (1)

Upon joining Adzooma, she was understandably loath to raise it as a possibility early on. “Because we’re a tech company, and recruitment is so competitive at the moment, the four-day week was in the back of my mind – but I was only a month into my job and I thought ‘maybe now isn’t the time…’

“Dave [Sharpe], one of the co-founders of the business, then sent me an email about the four-day week – they’d been thinking about it for some time and wanted to look at adopting it!”

After researching the pros and cons, Lecomber-Peace presented her findings to the board. “I was very conscious of doing a thorough analysis of the negatives as well as the positives,” she says.

“I came across 4 Day Week Global, who were running the UK trial. I looked at a number of studies and spoke to several companies that had implemented the four-day week. Overwhelmingly, they were all positive. 

“There were no cons – maybe a few hiccups in the implementation, but they’d managed to iron those out. It was quite hard to find negative research [and] arguments against it, for our size of business and for what we do.”

Don’t make the mistake of hiring on skills alone

Wider impact

The 70 companies involved in the nationwide trial are to be surveyed at three points: before, the midpoint and afterwards. Researchers are examining the impact inside businesses, but also the wider picture of the effect upon local communities and the environment.

Adzooma, which employs 40 people and serves more than 60,000 customers, has not mandated a four-day workweek: people can work reduced hours across five days if they prefer. Core hours for working days are 11-4, with flexibility either side of that.

Lecomber-Peace is keen to make clear that the system is still on trial, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “The team were immediately on board, discussing how to make it work. It was so positive to see them galvanise, look at their processes and figure out how they can be more productive. It’s probably the highlight of my career so far,” she says.

“We’ve seen an increase in our ability to attract people after a few weeks. Our retention has already gone up – we’ve curbed our labour turnover and got good retention in our development team, which is really hard at the moment in such a competitive market.

“We’ve been running productivity sessions with the team… something would have to go disastrously wrong for us to go back to a five-day week at the end of the trial.”

Mental health benefit

One company which has already moved permanently to a four-day workweek is Stevenage-based Civo, a pureplay cloud native service provider.

CEO Mark Boost, a serial entrepreneur who previously founded before growing it to become the fifth largest hosting company in the UK before exiting in 2019, says Civo found the move has made the business more successful while also looking after staff’s mental health.

Employees now work 34 hours – reduced from 36 hours – across four 8.5-hour days. They can choose to work 34 hours across five days if they prefer. “Since the trial, the majority of the team has wholeheartedly embraced the change,” he says of a workforce which is 50% based abroad. “People are incredibly grateful for the extra time off because it helps to alleviate the pressure from both inside and out of work. 

“Having the extra time to spend with kids or tackle household tasks is so valuable in the busy world we occupy, and the extra time off is reciprocated no end by staff that are well-rested and happier in their place of work.

“There’s nothing glamorous about working extensive hours when it’s damaging your life outside of work and making someone miserable. By building a culture that protects against this, staff are going to be happier and will likely stay at the company longer.”

Civo, like Adzooma, does not rigorously track and monitor employee schedules. “We are a business that is highly focused on deliverable metrics, and our employees are entrusted to get their work done in the time available and very rarely, if ever, let us down,” says Boost.

Civo is now trialling uncapped holidays “to extend the benefits of flexible working further”. 

Flexibility is more important than a 4-day week

A century-old habit

The 40-hour Monday-Friday week was cemented back in 1926 when the Ford Motor Company adopted the model following decades of protests and strikes among the working classes. Ironically, at the time the five-day week was itself a positive move to reducing working hours.

“We’ve had a whole digital revolution since then, and nobody’s thought to go: five days? Why do we still cling to that?” asks Lecomber-Peace.

“The digital revolution was supposed to make life better and easier – and instead we seem to have gone the other way: we’re working more, and more, and more, and more. People have ended up working longer hours, not less; people are sending more emails, more communications, having more meetings than there really needs to be.

“Now, following the pandemic, there’s a growing movement among people – particularly among employees – saying: ‘I don’t want that anymore. I’m healthier and I’m better for working less.’ And when you look at the models, companies are better for it as well.”

She adds: “In the labour market at the moment, things like your wellbeing, how you are valued and treated, and your work-life balance are held on a par with how much pay you’re getting – if not more.”


Prior to the UK trial, Lockhart’s organisation found that 78% of employees working a four-day week were happier and less stressed.

4 Day Week Global is also running a trial in the US – which has just been extended to 60 companies – while government-backed trials are also due to begin later this year in Spain and Scotland.

Sadly, there is an extremely personal reason behind her mission to improve people’s work-life balance. “In 2004 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed. My children were still very young, but I had a great medical team who gave me no reason to believe that I would not survive this. And I did,” she says.

“For a while I lived life more in the ‘now’, but over time I let my old habits slide back and, sure enough, there I was, back with the long hours and crazy life… until February 2021, when the cancer returned, this time Stage 4 and incurable.

“This is a very different place to be. It has meant I have had to focus only on the very important things and enjoying life rather than frittering it away. Now for me, I focus on my family and friends, my bucket list and advocating for the four-day week.

“I expect to see a greater move to reduced hours – and we will see more and more legislation in support of this… especially once we are able to make our global research available to governments.”

She adds: “I have two pieces of advice from leaders who reduce work time by focusing on productivity: it’s easier than you think – and it’s the best thing you will do in business.”

IN4 Talent aims to fix ‘broken’ recruitment model