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:
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.
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.
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.
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