News & Insights

The Four-Day Week Future

With more and more UK companies adopting or trialling a four-day working week, what should these employers be considering in order to make the transition as smooth as possible?

On 6 June 2022, around 3,300 workers at seventy UK companies began a six-month trial of a four-day working week, under the leadership of campaigning group 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community established to support the four-day working week. Employers taking part in the trial agreed that their workers would receive 100% pay of their pay for 80% of their normal working time.

Following the trial, a survey revealed that 88% of the seventy participant companies found that a four-day working week worked “well” for their business. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 95% of the companies reported that productivity had either remained the same or improved during the trial.

Following these positive results, one-hundred UK companies have signed up for a permanent four-day working week for all of their employees, with no loss of pay. These companies only employ 2,600 staff in total, but these developments indicate a growing desire for a new approach to work in the UK.

Indeed, a survey of 2,000 senior HR practitioners, conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, found that 34% of businesses considered a four-day working week would be attainable for most workers within the decade. The main benefits envisaged by these organisations were improved employee well-being, recruitment and retention. Concerns were raised regarding reduced hours not suiting everyone and reduced productivity – although 4 Day Week Global’s trial would indicate that the latter fear may not necessarily be based in reality.

If an employer is thinking about moving towards or trialling a four-day week, what legal matters should they be considering? The change in working arrangements would constitute a contractual variation and therefore employers should be seeking consent from employees – although it is difficult to envisage many employees objecting to such a change, at least where their salary is to remain consistent. This could be more of a negotiation if the company wants employees to work on specific days, or retain some flexibility on busy periods, or to have some sort of rota system so that the whole working week is covered by staff. Reducing working hours is likely to also reduce an employee’s entitlement to holiday, which would be pro-rated. Again, employees may be happy with this, as they will have more time off work each week anyway, but this change should be agreed and documented.

Concerns about reduced productivity, however theoretical, may encourage employers to increase employee monitoring. If employers decide to pursue this course of action, they should also ensure that their procedures are reasonable and lawful and their policies robust enough to ensure compliance with rights to privacy and data protection legislation. Ian Machray, a partner in our employment team, gave a webinar in collaboration with Ziptech Services, considering the legality of monitoring employees; you can watch that here.

Conversely, reducing working days but not workload could potentially lead to higher stress levels or longer hours worked on those days; this will need to be carefully monitored and managed to ensure it does not increase risks related to sickness absence or other employee welfare concerns.

A 2019 study conducted by the University of Reading found that 25% of employees with a four-day working week use their “additional” day to undertake voluntary or paid work. Employers may therefore want to remind employees of their contractual obligations, particularly regarding exclusivity, conflicts of interest and confidentiality. Employers also need to ensure they have adequate information to comply with their working time obligations.

There are also discrimination risks associated with a general transition to a four-day working week, if such a move is not approached with care. Current part-time workers are likely to have their pay pro-rated to reflect the fact that they work fewer days than their colleagues. However, if the working week is reduced from five to four days across an organisation, then adjustments will need to be made to the old part-time workers’ pay, hours, or annual leave entitlement. Failing to do so could open employers to indirect discrimination and equal pay claims from female workers, who are more likely to work part-time, or to grievances and, ultimately, constructive dismissal claims, if employees resign as a result.

If you would like advice on moving to a four-day working week, need help drafting or amending your employment contracts or policies, or require any other employment advice, please get in touch at [email protected]