Is a four-day working week possible?

Depending on your standpoint, the BREXIT outcome illustrated how fickle people can be when it comes to voting, especially when they’re wooed by headline-making promises. One could argue that the return of blue British passports and a greater sense of patriotism was enough to vote ‘leave’ and if the general public continues to be influenced by somewhat gimmicky policies – and not by a whole manifesto – we may be heading for an employment revolution.

Last month it was reported that the Labour party wanted people to work less – dropping to four days over the course of a week but still being paid for five. It’s a notion that caught the eye and got people dreaming of what they’d do with an extra day off. Some Labour members think AI (artificial intelligence) will make a four-day week possible – with AI reducing the labour need, increasing efficiency and cutting costs – with financial savings passed on to employees in the shape of an extra day off. With the Conservative party in turmoil and BREXIT negotiation still unresolved, the prospect of snap general election may open the door to a Labour government, giving it the chance to implement its reduced day concept.

A four-day week is not as new or as radical as it sounds, however, with other European countries already adopting the practice and plenty of case studies that claim a shorter week reduces staff stress levels and increases productivity. A few companies in the UK are already accommodating a four-day week but how could a more widespread adoption affect recruitment?

Job descriptions will have to evolve to detail working patterns and hours. Companies already operating four-day weeks sometimes ask staff to work longer hours or they switch to a ‘shift’ style of working to facilitate that extra day off. And the three-day weekend may not emerge, as shift patterns can dictate when that extra day is taken to ensure staff cover – and that may be a different day every week.

Wages are also an issue being debated. Companies may use the opportunity of a four-day week with five days of pay to alter its wage scale for new recruits. Starting salaries may be lowered to make up for 8 hours of lost productivity  – especially if businesses find it hard to quantify AI costs savings. It’s also been noted that four-day weeks with shift patterns are especially hard to cover during peak holiday periods and during sick leave, with the tendency for there to be less people working on any given day.

The labour market will be less of a level playing field than ever if four-day weeks are more widespread, and recruitment and retention strategies will need to get creative. There’s a huge reliance on quantifiable AI savings and wage guarantees, as well as a willingness from employers, to forge ahead with such plans. Of course, all the above is hypothetical but politics suddenly got interesting. The HR world will be watching Parliament with interest.

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