The UK has kick-started a four-day work week pilot scheme. From June to the end of 2022, 3,300 workers across 70 organisations will enjoy a full salary for four days’ work instead of five. This is a wish come true for at least 63% of British workers, according to a Personnel Today study).

In return, organisers and participants hope to see productivity gains for the 100-80-100 model (100% pay for 80% of the time in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity). Early indicators point towards a positive outcome. What’s not clear is how a four-day working week could work across different industries.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the 4 day work week pros and cons, and review what the pilot scheme means for recruiters as well as business leaders.

Is the UK the only country with a four-day working week pilot?

Various UK campaigners have rallied for a 4 day work week, including 4 Day Week Campaign and pilot coordinator, the 4 Day Week Global Foundation. The UK programme runs alongside similar schemes in Ireland, the US and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Israel. This follows previous trials in other regions, such as Iceland and Belgium.

In Iceland, the four-year trial from 2015 to 2019 was successful. 86% of the country’s workforce now work shorter hours or enjoy the right to request shorter hours. Belgium’s coalition government has approved a reform package that will enable workers to choose a four-day week and ignore work-related messages if they’re outside work hours (without fear of reprisal).

This illustrates that the concept isn’t new, but for the 70 UK organisations taking part, it is new, and time will tell if the outcome will be as successful as other trials. To help them achieve measurable, positive outcomes, the groundwork of support began at the beginning of 2022. This included workshops, mentoring, networking, and a wellbeing and productivity assessment. These will be ongoing throughout the six-month trial.

The quality of legal protection for workers could be a positive by-product of the trials in these countries and is an area that will undoubtedly affect the UK, too. It’s early days, but what are the benefits for employers? And how will a 4 day work week affect the traditional recruitment process?

Five benefits of a four-day working week

A 4 day work week will not suit every industry. For instance, logistics is a complex area that has wheels constantly in motion. While there may be wriggle room to accommodate some workers’ hours and rights, it may not accommodate others. Also, not everybody may want to work fewer hours. Overtime is an important factor to debate, as is the structure of a 5 day work week that people have become accustomed to.

Yet, the benefits look attractive. Here’s a selection of the advantages of a 4 day work week that could entice an organisation to take part.

Improve morale. Working long hours is associated with a loss of health and life; a conclusion published by the World Health Organisation in 2021. The alternative is to work shorter hours, increase employee wellbeing, health and morale, and create a happier working environment. The 4 Day Week Global Foundation reveals that 78% of employees with four-day weeks ‘are happier and less stressed’. A Swedish care home gave nurses a six-hour day, which resulted in less sick leave anda massive improvement in employee engagement.

Increase productivity. A common theme across trial schemes in other countries is that productivity has either remained the same or has improved. In the UK, a legal firm conducted its own four-day week experiments before the current trial. The outcome was successful for many reasons, with directing manager Trevor Worth saying: ‘We measure productivity because that’s the key thing. Can people work better and more efficiently in the time they’re allocated? And we’ve definitely seen that internally as part of the team and partners we work with.’

See fewer absences. Many factors cause absenteeism, and one of them is working long hours, which in turn affects work-life balance. There are many ways to deal with excessive employee absenteeism, and one of them is to implement flexible working. (An Industrial Society survey says it’s the option most likely to reduce absence.) If this means adopting a four-day working week, leaders could reduce absenteeism, which will have a knock-on effect across the organisation. Find out more about absenteeism in the workplace.

Improve recruitment strategies. An easy win for employers is including the fact that your company offers a 4 day work week in your job description. Talented jobseekers will be attracted to this! More profound is how this could transform recruitment processes to accommodate shorter working hours. With shorter hours, gains could be made in employee engagement and talent retention, and you could see a reduction in churn rates. These examples represent an opportunity to reassess traditional thinking in UK HR departments and to make processes more streamlined and effective from the outset.

Reduce carbon footprint. A 4 day work week could result in having a smaller carbon footprint. The UK’s path to becoming net-zero has piled pressure on many organisations, but there’s a clear roadmap showing how to achieve this. A 4 day work week could play a key role in reducing emissions. A 2021 study found that a cut in working hours ‘would reduce energy use in the workplace and slash transport emissions by cutting back on commuting’.

With every new trial comes a set of challenges to overcome. It will be difficult to implement a 4 day work week if it simply doesn’t suit your industry. As an active recruiter, and one of the 75% experiencing a talent shortage, the outcomes of the UK’s trial should interest you.

You may already be one of the UK employers who predict that a 4 day work week will be the norm by 2030. In which case, the groundwork is already being laid for how to transform your business and enjoy the rewards. If the outcomes are as good as previous trials indicate, the future of work looks bright indeed.