Cafeteria table with view of the docks.

Is it time for a three day weekend?

17 July 2019. Published by Chloe Scott, Trainee Solicitor

Reducing the number of days in work was an idea first explored by John Maynard Keynes in 1930 when he predicted that in the next 100 years the working week would only be 15 hours. Whilst his prediction has yet to come to fruition, an increasing number of businesses are switching to a four day week in light of claims of increased productivity and staff happiness.

The switch to a four day week sees staff getting paid their full salary whilst being able to have an extra day off each week. One of the biggest companies to make the switch is Perpetual Guardian, the New Zealand trust and estate planning business. Perpetual Guardian switched its 240 employees to a four day week and allowed the University of Auckland to monitor and record the findings of the change. It seems that the switch has been a win-win:

  • staff stress levels reduced from 45% to 38%;

  • an additional 24% of employees felt they could successfully balance their work and personal lives;

  • overall work satisfaction increased by 5%;

  • productivity has improved by 20%; and

  • overall profits have increased.

In fact, the business has generated new clients as a result of the change with over 400 organisations seeking its advice on how to introduce a four day week into their businesses.  

A firm closer to home which has also made the change is Pursuit Marketing, based in Glasgow. The firm did this after realising that those on reduced working hours were actually 17% more productive. This is in line with evidence comparing countries across the EU, which shows that despite the British working four weeks more per year than workers in Germany, they are less productive. The change to a four day working week has proven to be a success for Pursuit Marketing; not only has productivity increased by 30%, sickness leave is at an all-time low and they have saved costs on recruiters due to being inundated with applicants. 

There is the risk that after the excitement of such a change, staff could become complacent as a four day week simply becomes the norm. However, complacency is a risk that all businesses face, no matter how long the week is, and it can be addressed by ensuring individual teams have clear plans and goals. The switch to a four day week could be the change that businesses need in order to better organise their workforce and workload.

The environment may also be thanking businesses for the change. Depending on what staff do with their additional day off, the individuals' carbon footprints may be reduced by removing commuter pollution. There will also be a reduction in electricity and gas usage by businesses as no-one will be in the office on a Friday. This will have serious cost benefits for the firms as office costs could be reduced by up to 20%.

However, not all businesses think it would work. The Wellcome Trust toyed with the idea of switching to a four day week but decided against it. The main reasons it gave for not going ahead with the change were that employees were worried about their workload being squeezed into just four days, and that it could distract the charity from doing its fundamental work.   

With Labour thinking about how the idea could fit into its policy programme, there are concerns that it could lead to a two-tier economy. The switch would be easier for some sectors than others. Businesses that operate in the financial, consulting or marketing sectors, for example, may find the switch to be beneficial. However, in sectors such as healthcare and retail it could be rather unrealistic because more staff would need to be hired to fill in the gaps. Therefore, there could be one tier of the elite group of workers who have the benefit of only having to work four days a week, and then another tier of workers whose jobs do not allow them this luxury.

But perhaps this two-tier economy already exists? Some jobs enable workers to work 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday, while others require staff to work night-shifts and weekends. If a four day week could provide huge benefits for some businesses and workers, why not give it a go.