Recently, it was confirmed that over 3,000 British workers will take part in a trial of the four-day working week, running from June to December 2022.

With potential to spark a radical shift in UK working patterns, opinions are divided on whether the change is realistic, or simply the latest fad.

Around 60 companies are due to be involved in the British trial, which makes it the largest pilot scheme to take place in the world so far.

Who is participating in the trial?

A wide variety of businesses and charities are due to take part in the four-day working week trial, which is being led by academics at Cambridge and Oxford University, alongside campaign groups such as 4 Day Week Global.

So far, the participants include:

  • A brewing company in London
  • A marketing agency in Leeds
  • A medical devices company in Manchester
  • A nationwide home care provider
  • A recruitment company in Exeter

While the above snapshot represents a wide variety of workplaces, it is important to note that most of the companies involved have traditionally operated in office-based environments.

Already, this could strengthen the argument that only certain sectors can adopt a four-day week, with those that provide a physical service likely to face challenges.

Manufacturing and retail are two strong examples of this, both requiring a significant amount of organisational change to adapt.

Although this is not impossible, the barriers involved are likely to place the four-day working week in a less favourable position for these employers.

How could employers benefit from a four-day week?

An improvement to working conditions has been highlighted as the most prominent benefit of a four-day working week.

By adopting a shorter week, crucially without any reduction in pay, employers are hoping to see higher levels of productivity across the workforce.

If employees feel that they have a positive work-life balance, in which they are not being overworked, their morale and engagement are likely to improve.

In time, this should create an effective working environment where employees are consistently motivated, allowing employers to attract and retain the best available talent.

With the trial seeking to examine the impact of a new working pattern on various companies, the pros and cons will only become clearer as time goes on.

Why is the trial taking place?

The Covid-19 pandemic is the main driving force behind the four-day week trial. Most companies had no choice but to re-assess their working patterns during this time, leading to a substantial rise in hybrid and flexible arrangements.

These practices have already diverged from the traditional working experience for many, creating belief that the four-day working week is both achievable and effective.

One trial participant has suggested that adopting the change would be a means of responding to an “incredibly competitive” labour market.

Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Biology, has used this suggestion to reinforce the need for attracting and retaining talent, stating that the innovative approach is “great for everybody”.

The society has 35 staff working remotely, all of which have reacted positively to the news of the trial. To ensure that the society remains open five days a week, workers are set to be split between Monday-to-Thursday shifts and Tuesday-to-Friday shifts.

Joe O’Connor, Chief Executive of 4 Day Week Global, has supported arrangements like this.

Like many, he argues that Covid-19 has changed the working world forever, with employers now embracing innovation in the name of greater quality, rather than greater quantity.

In terms of real-life application, a manufacturing firm in Derbyshire has already adopted a permanent four-day working week.

So far, the change has been widely beneficial to the organisation, perhaps debunking the argument that only certain sectors can adapt.

Is this the future for UK workers?

The outcome of this trial could be hugely significant, as it opposes what has been an accepted norm for decades.

As we have shown in this article, there are many viewpoints on the possibility of a four-day working week, each fuelled by different factors which offer their own unique challenges.

It will be interesting to monitor the trial as it progresses, paying close attention to the number of companies who decide to adopt the change permanently.

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