Watching an episode of Downtown Abbey many moons ago, I was enchanted by the wonderful Grand Dame, The Dowager Countess of Grantham, asking in genuine confusion, “What is a weekend?” And it struck me that the fixed norm of a 5 day working week with a much-loved weekend as reward, is a relatively recent invention, one that only became popular in the 20th Century. And yet, it has become so embedded in the collective consciousness, that, until recently, we rarely considered any alternatives.
But the Covid-19 pandemic upended many of the norms of the world of work. For the first time in industrial history, we’re beginning to challenge where, when and how we work.
And I’ve been thinking recently, why have I always worked to a rhythm of 5 days a week, without question?
Many people I speak to these days are reflecting on how they have worked in the past, and, crucially, how they want to work in the future. I fully acknowledge that work plays a different role in each person’s life, and everyone’s perspective is influenced by factors like age, the need to earn, parental status, ambition level, personal values, the skills they have, and their job options. And, of course, it’s a privilege to have the option to make changes at all.
At Frankli, we’re currently taking part in a trial programme with 4 Day Week Global. This recent Forbes article makes interesting reading on the topic. My fellow participants are organisations of all sizes, from all across the globe. But they’ve got one thing in common, they’re people-centric companies who understand the value of employee engagement. We share our learnings regularly, and are participating in a research study to measure impact on employee engagement, but also productivity, wellness, and environment.
Before I go any further, I should explain the principles of the 4 day week:
Productivity remains at the same level as the 5 day week, but is executed in 4 days.
This often surprises people and can lead to cries of huge workloads and high pressure, but that’s not our experience so far. Let me explain;
- We continue to deliver 100% of our output, equivalent to working 5 days, while being gifted 1 day a week by the company. It creates a very useful focus on deliverables, outcomes and what "good" productivity looks like for each role.
- The whole focus is on eliminating the estimated 11.4 hours per person a week of "wasted" time. It's about priorities, OKRs, teamwork, and efficiency. We’re looking to do some training, so we can become even more aware of what we do with our time in our 4 days. This is really valuable skill development, especially as our teams are working 100% remotely.
- Customer Service levels must remain in place, with cover at all times to ensure swift response times. Our Customers should not experience any drop in service - they deserve the best possible experience, after all.
The extra day per week is an annual agreement with each team member, based on meeting productivity expectations.
- Employment contracts remain on the existing 5-day week basis. This is a flexible programme and is only offered as long as productivity and customer service levels are maintained.
- Holiday days are unaffected.
- On Bank Holiday weeks, we all work the remaining 4 days.
The idea of a 4 day week predates the pandemic. There was already a growing global momentum in support of this model, with lots of research and media attention on the topic.
It’s not surprising that the 4 day week is picking up speed at a time where nearly every employee who can, is re-evaluating their work and how it fits their life.
Back in 2019, Henley's 'Four Better or Four Worse?' white paper, based on research conducted by Professor James Walker Director of Research at Henley Business School & Dr Rita Fontinha Lecturer in Strategic Human Resources Management, highlighted these results:
- “(64%) have reported improvements in productivity.
- This working style increased overall quality of life for employees, with 78% of implementing businesses saying staff were happier, less stressed 70% and took fewer days off ill 62%.
- Almost two thirds 63% of employers said that providing a four-day working week has helped them to attract and retain talent.
- And it’s not just while at work that they’re more productive; with an additional day off, 40% of employees would use the time to up-skill or develop professional skills. A quarter said they would use their fifth day to volunteer”
Source: Henley Business School, University of Reading
The research is really quite staggering. And it makes me question, if we continue with a 5 day week, are we effectively saying, “no thanks” to increased productivity, happier employees, and A-level talent? It seems foolish not to, at the very least, consider it.
We can protest, suggesting it will never work for our industry, our output, or our customers, but the fact remains, the possibilities are there to be explored.
At Frankli, we’re really keen to experiment with how work can be made better, and we’ll be sharing our experiences with the 4 day week trial programme as we go.
I’ll admit that I started brainstorming ideas for this article on my fifth, “gifted” day, which doesn’t exactly align with the ethos of the 4 day week, but doesn’t class me as a failure, either. Often, on that fifth day, I find myself struck by ideas I don’t believe I had the mental space for as a 5 day worker. Other days, I go for a long walk with my darling dog, who funnily enough, agrees with everything I say to her. And I think there’s value - for myself and the organisation - in both.
For more information on how Frankli can help you grow high-performing teams, and engage and better understand your people, click here.
Quick Version: What would you say to increased productivity and happiness among your team?
Introduction: The fixed norm of a 5 day working week is a relatively recent invention. At a time where nearly every employee who can, is re-evaluating their work and how it fits their life, the four day work week is gaining momentum. And why not, when the potential rewards are so enticing?
Principle 1 of the 4 Day Week: Productivity goals remain at the same level as the 5 day week, but are executed in 4 days.
Principle 2 of the 4 Day Week: The extra day per week is offered, based on each team member’s ability to meet their personal productivity expectations.
Key research quoted in Henley's white paper: 64% reported improvements in productivity, 78% of implementing businesses saying staff were happier, 63% of employers said that providing a four-day working week has helped them to attract and retain talent.
Conclusion: Considering the 4 day work week seems like a no-brainer. We can protest, suggesting it will never work for our industry, our output, or our customers, but the fact remains, the possibilities are there to be explored. At Frankli, we’re already participating in the 4 Day Week Global trial programme, and we’ll be sharing our experiences as we go. To join us, simply sign up for our curated newsletter using the form below.