Are four-day working weeks the future or for the birds?

I ask the question because conflicting reports came out yesterday about their viability.

In the case against, Asda is reported to be scrapping plans to introduce a four-day week due to complaints from exhausted staff.

The Leeds-headquartered supermarket chain launched a trial that saw employees work their 44-hour week over four days instead of five for the same pay.

That translated into 11-hour shift patterns but many staff found the longer shifts ‘physically demanding’ and others said it had been difficult to meet the earlier start and later finish times.

Asda is said to be testing other working patterns as a result.

However, in the case for, South Cambridgeshire District Council said their trial of a four-day week saw no drop in service with fewer refuse collectors quitting and faster planning decisions.

Talk about four-day weeks is nothing new. Atom Bank became the UK’s first bank to do a trial of four-day weeks in November 2021. It saw teams move to 34 hours with no loss of pay and experienced great success.

Is it time to move to a 4-day working week?

I did a poll on LinkedIn yesterday and 59 per cent of the 318 voters believed that four-day weeks are here to stay, with 41 per cent taking the opposite view.

Personally speaking, I think the jury is out and it depends on the individual business.

It can help retain and recruit staff in the first instance but it can be the first casualty in an economic downturn.

Covid changed the way we work and more and more people are looking at working compressed hours.

I canvassed the views of my network and have included a selection of opinions below.

Raam Shankar, founder CEO of Equitus Design Engineering and Innovations, said: “I’ve seen companies proudly offer nine-day fortnights but without any reduction in the hours worked. That means 80 hours in nine days, meaning people having to spend c.10 hours in the office and then commuting to and fro three days a week.

“This four-day working week will only work if the hours required to work by employees are also reduced and performance is measured on throughput as opposed to time spent at one’s desk.”

Kate McClean, of Oscar Technology, said: “I thought the four-day working week was supposed to be less hours for the same pay. Employees would be more productive in those four days than they would be stretched over five. I know I for one would hate to work 11-hour shifts and would prefer to work the standard hours over five days.”

Michelle Mullany, head of deal origination at MHA, said: “My husband’s work has been trialling a nine-day fortnight which has been working very well and seen a rise in productivity. I think it’s a good halfway house. Four-day week understandably can seem like a big leap for a business.”

Mike Pye, managing director at marketing consultancy MP&Co, said: “Doomed to fail if you try and make people work the same hours in less days. The whole point is reducing the working week, to reduce stress, sickness and absence and increase productivity, engagement and enjoyment when working.”

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Applied Futurist Tom Cheesewright said: “It’s always going to be a mixed picture but the balance of work is shifting towards the cognitive more than the physical in the long-term. Productivity for that sort of work is intrinsically limited.

“You can’t be creative, strategic or empathic, eight hours a day, five days a week. Maybe it will be four days. Maybe it will be five shorter ones but ultimately I see us doing fewer hours in the long-term.”

Emma-Louise Fusari, founder of In-House Health, said: “Asda have got the principles of a four-day week very wrong here. Research also shows that consistently working long days (more than 10 hours) increases the risk of stroke by 30 per cent.”

Ilona Alcock, co-founder of Elevate, said: “Huge difference between a genuine four-day week, and working condensed hours. Also worth noting the productivity benefits are only fully realised with a three-day weekend (i.e. not having a day off midweek). The biggest struggle we see is an organisation’s ability to manage output rather than input.”

David Hughes, director of digital experience at OneAdvanced, said: “I’ve worked four-day weeks twice in my career. The first was a ‘compressed hours’ arrangement which was ok.

“The second was a four- day week working regular office hours and I maintain it was the most productive I’ve been. A three-day weekend is a proper break, ensuring you are fully rested and firing on all cylinders on Monday morning.”

Joe Parker, associate director at ECOM, said: “I’ve been doing a four-day week since July 2021, I saw an immediate improvement in my performance in work and it’s continued to improve every single year since, so it’s worked for me personally.

“I have a young daughter, so the extra day with family means a lot to me and I wouldn’t currently leave my job for another that required me to work five days again. Horses for courses though, it won’t work for every person or every company.”

Emily Millar, operations director at Hawthorn Estates, said: “The future to me seems very mixed, bottom line, AI has the power to change so much. They say the poor are always with us. Will the poor and middle class may soon be out of work and living on the same income as each other. Who knows?”

Kathleen Parker, community co-ordinator at Lancaster-based Fraser House Hub, said: “I can only comment as a working parent but feel sure working condensed hours across four days would present childcare issues for many.”