Is the UK looking to adjust to a 4 day working week?

Business Insights

Belgium is doing it. Iceland is doing it. Spain is doing it. Japan is doing it. And numerous other countries are trialling it, now including the UK! It seems that businesses the world over are looking to adopt a 4 day work week.

So, is the 4 day working week coming to the UK anytime soon?

Well, there are around 30 companies in the UK taking part in a 6 month trial later this year. Plus, there are some businesses that have already adopted a 4 day work week as a permanent change. The trial will be monitored by Oxford and Cambridge universities to measure the 4 day working week’s impact on employee productivity and wellbeing, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equity. Employees taking part will get 100% of their pay for 4 days in exchange for their commitment to maintaining 100% productivity.

Why are people campaigning for a 4 day week?

We have already seen a seismic shift in the way we work because of the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more people and businesses are realising work is something you do, not something you go to. This, coupled with a heightened focus on work-life balance and general wellbeing, has led to many people re-evaluating their lives and having higher expectations of their employers around how and when they work.

A shift towards a 4 day week can enable employees to have a 3 day weekend (if they don’t work on a Friday or Monday), which gives an extra day for them to unwind and relax. Furthermore, campaigners also believe a 4 day working week will have a positive impact on the environment.

Is the UK ready for a 4 day working week?

It’s probably fair to say some businesses are more ready than others. The pandemic has forced many businesses to adopt new ways of working, with technological advancements enabling them to do this quickly. Perhaps surprisingly to many employers, they have also seen a corresponding rise in productivity levels, together with a much more trusting relationship with their employees. As a result of this, many employers are warming to the idea of a 4 day working week. For instance, HR software providers myhrtoolkit recently interviewed three business leaders who have adopted a 4 day work week as part of their Small Business Scoop video series.

Obviously, it will be down to the individual employer, via consultation with their employees, to determine what the 4 day week looks like for them (all office based, hybrid working, fully remote?) This may well depend on how much trust they have in their employees. Those businesses adopting a ‘manage by output’ approach are far more likely to embrace the 4 day working week, as it supports a management style which measures by productivity and is very outcome focused. This contrasts with businesses that view presence alone as an indication of employee productivity.

How can businesses implement a 4 day week?

Employers may view the prospect of implementing a 4 day week a rather daunting proposition. A useful starting point will be for a business to determine what business needs will be met by a 4 day week. Insight into this can be gained by consulting with different areas of the business and employees. From here, it should be possible to understand whether there is a good chance of success.

Be clear on the benefits of a 4 day week; however, it is also key to work through concerns that might be raised. For employees, this might be concerns around how the same workloads can be covered in less time and whether this might, in fact, overwhelm them.

And there may be customers to consider as part of this puzzle – how will it affect them? If it seems there may be a potential issue about implementing the 4 day week, a possible solution may be to establish a rotating schedule between employees where they can choose which would be their 4th day of the week to work. That way, cover will be maintained for customers over a wider period.

Experiment and test – a large scale change such as this can’t be achieved overnight and businesses need to discuss, plan and test, and consider a phased implementation. Regular review and evaluation will help establish whether the 4 day week can be achieved and if changes may be needed.


Is the 4 day week coming to the UK? The short answer is – possibly!

So many businesses are ahead of the curve and adopting flexible working practices; it may be that this is sufficient to meet the demands of their employees and customers. A 4 day week may well be achievable in many businesses and across many industries – however, whether it will work on a blanket scale across the UK is uncertain. Perhaps a more nuanced approach may be the answer, depending on the employer and the environment in which they work.

Author: Kate Marchant

Bio: Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.