four-day week

Is a four-day week right for your business?

Is a four-day week right for your business?

In this article, Senior HR Consultant, Claire McGuinness discusses the benefits and pitfalls of a four-day working week, as well as the impact of this on flexible working requests.

In June this year 100 companies in the UK, employing 2,600 staff, moved to a permanent four-day week in a bid to improve productivity by producing the same output in shorter hours.  Staff benefiting from a four-day week will receive no loss of pay, in what is being seen as a landmark shift away from the traditional five-day working week in Britain.

Employers such as Atom Bank have been accredited by the four-day week campaign to show that workers are not being forced to work longer days and that working hours have genuinely been reduced. This is key to avoiding increasing stress levels and ultimately making the policy a success.

As part of the pilot, workers are receiving 100% pay for 80% of working time but are expected to maintain 100% productivity.  It is hoped that a 4-3 working pattern will improve work-life balance and job satisfaction, as well as reduce absence levels and boost retention rates.

While we will not know for sure until the outcome of the report, we can speculate on the likely pros and cons:

Potential benefits

  • An increase in employees’ rest period may aid in decreasing the number of employee absences during the working week.
  • Previous studies have indicated a four-day week to have an increase in employee productivity.
  • There will be a reduction in an employers’ carbon footprint. With workers commuting into the place of work less frequently, less energy will be expended in ensuring the workspace is lit and heated.
  • Given the office would be closed for one extra day a week, running costs would see a significant drop.
  • A four-day week will be beneficial to work-life balance.
  • More generally available flexible working may help reduce the childcare disparity in the workplace allowing more women to work more. This may help reduce the gender pay gap, which is again vital for attracting the best of the female workforce.

Potential pitfalls

  • A four-day week will require contractual variations, meaning employers would need to consult with employees to seek mutual consent.
  • Employers may also need to revise policies. For example, employers may be tempted to increase employee monitoring in order to ensure productivity. They will need to ensure their privacy policy is broad enough to cover any new systems introduced to monitor productivity and that it complies with the data protection legislation.
  • If employees are undertaking additional voluntary or paid work, employers ought to be careful to monitor their working time and ensure that the employee is drawn aware to any exclusivity or confidentiality clauses in their contracts.
  • Facilitating a four-day working week could be challenging, especially for businesses that have a need to operate consistently over the week. Care should be taken to avoid claims of discrimination:
    • Those already on flexible working patterns may currently have their pay pro-rated to reflect the fact they work fewer days. This should be adjusted if the working week is reduced from five days to four. Given the majority of part-time workers remain women, an employer may risk a large-scale indirect discrimination or equal pay claim if an adjustment of some sort is not made.
    • Some employees may have a need to take a particular day off. This might be for religious reasons or as part of caring responsibilities. An employee may request to have the “new” day off on a consistent day and refusing the request may give rise to a claim of indirect discrimination.

Perhaps the greatest shift will be culture. While some employees will accept the day off with great enthusiasm, it may be a more difficult shift for some to understand. It may be that additional work is required on the fifth day. Employers should have clear guidance on when it is acceptable to ask an employee to undertake what is now additional work. It is not difficult to imagine that undue pressure placed on an employee could lead to grievances and allegations of workplace bullying.

How does this affect flexible working requests?

It is important to remember that an employee can already achieve a four-day week by other means, albeit for a prorated salary. Section 80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the ability to request flexible working. Irrespective of your opinion on the four-day working week trial, flexible working requests must be taken seriously. When considering them ensure you follow your policy, consider a trial period, and deal with requests promptly amongst other things.

While the right is only to request flexible working, as opposed to being guaranteed flexible working, an employee can make a complaint to an employment tribunal if the request is unreasonably rejected. Although the maximum compensatory award is only eight weeks pay. A denial or removal of a flexible working arrangement could constitute a detriment for a discrimination claim. Most often the protected characteristic relied upon is sex to facilitate childcare responsibilities, but an employee could rely on other protected characteristics by association.

Is a four-day week right for your business?

It remains to be seen whether a four-day week is the solution to the changing 21st-century workplace or not.  But small business employers should keep an open mind, with the need to ensure they accommodate increasing changes in technology from a business perspective, whilst keeping the overall focus on employee health and wellbeing to maintain productivity, a healthy work-life balance, and engagement. 

If you require support and guidance on how to implement a four-day working week within your business, get in contact with our team of experts.

T: 0330 107 1037

E: contact@hpc.ukcom

Twitter: @HPC_HRServices

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