News Analysis

Four-day week will test company culture

by Dan Byrne on Feb 22, 2023

The four-day week remains a relatively new idea, but as more and more trials hail it a success, boards will have a cultural call to make.

The ramifications could be enormous, but the question for boards is simple: a four-day week – yes or no?

This decision has many moving parts, and it won’t be the board alone that makes it. But working habits are part of a business’s corporate culture – something the board of directors has a critical role in shaping.

So, as the latest four-day week trial ends, the impending decision on whether to reject a four-day week or embrace it becomes more evident by the day.

What’s going on?

The four-day week idea is gaining traction across the western world. It’s not an absolute reality yet, but we continue to see trial after trial exploring its potential. 

The four-day week generally features more time at work from Monday to Thursday and then Fridays off. Some trials maintain the same number of hours per week; others see a slight reduction. The same goes for pay.

And what’s the latest?

The world’s biggest-ever trial of a 4-day workweek featuring 61 companies and 2,900 employees has concluded in the UK. 

This one gave workers a 20% reduction in working hours per week while maintaining their pay. It was hailed as a “success”.

Some results of this trial include: 

  • 56 participating companies have extended the four-day week beyond the trial. 18 plan to keep it permanently. 
  • 39% of employees said they were less stressed. 40% were sleeping better.
  • 54% found it easier to balance work and personal responsibilities. 
  • The number of sick days taken during the trial was two thirds less than usual. 
  • 23 organisations provided data on revenue; their figures showed that revenue stayed largely the same. Any change (in both directions) was minor (<2%).

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What role do boards have in a four-day week?

Boards are one of the primary sources of company culture. What directors value will likely descend through the ranks and shape the values of management and employees. 

Therefore, if boards embrace a four-day week – or show themselves open to it – then that enthusiasm will likely filter down as well.

Admin spring clean

Some participants of this UK trial emphasised that they achieved fewer working hours by clearing out unnecessary admin. 

Meetings with too many people or long run-times were cut or ditched entirely. The survey organisers said this would motivate people to work harder and find ways to get jobs done faster, investing in new tech where appropriate. 

Speaking with BBC News, non-profit Tyler Grange’s managing director Simon Ursell said that board meetings were deliberately cut from 2 hours to 30 minutes. 

“If you give people this incredible incentive of a whole day of your time a week, they’re going to work really hard to become more productive,” he said.

Why the persisting scepticism?

The UK trial may be the largest, but it is not the first. Others across Europe have produced the same results. So why, then, are many boards still sceptical about a four-day week?

Critics will see the negatives as much as the positives. They’ll question how the other 38 companies of the UK trial did on revenue. They’ll doubt whether the trial ran for long enough. They’ll wonder if vital information gets lost when a board meeting’s run time is cut by 75%.

Should boards embrace the four-day week?

For now, they should embrace the idea that one day, sooner than they think, they will have to decide on supporting it. 

Ultimately, boards will need to look at their business. Some could readily embrace a four-day week; others could not. 

Beyond that, it’s important to look at employee welfare and whether workers feel they could benefit from that extra day. It’s a big task to analyse, but essential for clarity. 

Even trialling a four-day week could majorly impact a generation of company culture. Boards should be sure that any move towards it is made correctly before giving its official endorsement.

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