The Public Sector
South Cambridgeshire District Council (UK)
In 2023, the first ever UK council trial got underway. South Cambridgeshire District Council became the first UK council to trial a four-day week with a three month trial for desk-based staff that began in January 2023. The move involved staff reducing their hours to 30 hours per week and with no loss of pay. After three months, the trial was deemed so successful that an extension of a further year for office based staff was approved, alongside a three month trial for staff in the Facilities Management team and Shared Waste services. According to the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge who analysed the results, the performance of the council was broadly maintained over the three month period. Nine out of 16 performance areas monitored showed substantial improvement and the Institute noted that not a single area of performance fell to a concerning level during the trial. The Council also managed to save £333,000 for taxpayers through reduced spend on agency staff. Furthermore, survey data collected by the Council showed that the trial was overwhelmingly positive for the health and well-being of staff. The Council decided to undertake the trial because of the acute recruitment and retention issues it was facing – mirroring the national recruitment and retention situation in the public sector According to the Local Government Association, nine in ten councils across the UK are struggling with job retention and recruitment. Before the trial started, the Council was spending almost £2million a year on agency staff, often in specialist roles where the private sector pays more. The Council predicted this bill could be halved if all the agency posts were filled permanently. Although the three-month trial wasn’t expected to see much improvement in recruitment, because there was no certainty about whether it would continue, the Council’s annual wage bill decreased by over £300,000 after just three months. Additionally, job posts which had been left empty for years were suddenly filled and some staff decided to stay at the Council when they may have otherwise moved-on. Prior to the trial taking place, the Council outlined how, for more than a year, it had only been able to fill around eight out of every ten, or fewer, of its vacancies. Not being able to fill vacant posts – or using agency staff to cover them – is not only expensive but also disruptive. For example, when case officers change during the process of a planning application, it can cause delays and frustration because a lot of context and institutional memory is lost. The combination of reduced agency spends and improved recruitment during the three-month trial is a positive indication of what the Council hopes to see in the year-long trial, saving costs whilst maintaining high quality public services. At the time of writing, another ten councils have been in touch with the 4 Day Week Campaign to say they are actively considering running their own trials.
The largest public sector shorter working week trials to date took place in Iceland. Again, they were an “overwhelming success”. From 2015 - 2019, Iceland ran two large-scale trials of a reduced working week of 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay and the results were analysed in a joint-project by the think tank Autonomy in the UK and the research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland. The analysis of the results - which included 2,500 workers (over 1 per cent of Iceland’s entire working population) - demonstrated the transformative positive effects of a shorter working week for both employees and businesses: • Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces. • Worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance. • The trials remained revenue neutral for both the city council and the government, providing a crucial, and so far largely overlooked blueprint of how future trials might be organised in other countries around the world. One of the trials was conducted in the capital of the country, Reykjavík, by the city authorities. Starting from just two workplaces with a few dozen workers, the trial was expanded to over 2,000 employees. Following the trials’ success, Icelandic trade unions and their confederations achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country. In total, roughly 86 per cent of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours. Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, commented at the time: “this study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success. It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks - and lessons can be learned for other governments. “Iceland has taken a big step towards the four-day working week, providing a great real-life example for Local Councils and those in the UK public sector considering implementing it here in the UK.”
Banking and Finance
“Our metrics and people surveys show that this has not had a negative impact on employees or customer service. In fact, it has been the opposite, with happier, more efficient, and more productive people who are even more driven to help us change banking for the better. We believe most organisations can move to a four-day week and we hope Atom’s experience will encourage more businesses to make the shift permanently.” - Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer at Atom Bank For Atom Bank, the UK’s largest four-day week employer with over 500 employees and one of the biggest digital challenger banks, the impact on their customers was just as important as the impact on their staff. They decided that the best way for them to measure the impact on customers was through their Trustpilot score - the main UK platform for customer reviews, and by measuring their customer goodwill score. To measure customer goodwill, some of the metrics they used were: App Store ratings, customer complaints and customer feedback sentiment. Atom Bank is nearly three years into adopting the four-day week now but data they released after 10 months of trialling it showed that their Trustpilot score had risen from 4.54 (out of 5) to 4.82 and their Customer goodwill score rose from 83.1 per cent to 85.8 per cent. At 10 months in they also found through staff surveys that 91 per cent of staff were able to get everything done within four days and 92 per cent felt encouraged to find efficiencies. Productivity had also increased across the vast majority of departmental metrics. Speaking at the time, Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer at Atom bank, said: “Over nine months on from introducing our new four-day working week, it’s clear that it has been a huge success for our business and our people. We are extremely proud of how our employees have adapted and the benefit it has brought to many. Our metrics and people surveys show that this has not had a negative impact on employees or customer service. In fact, it has been the opposite, with happier, more efficient, and more productive people who are even more driven to help us change banking for the better. “Moving to a four-day week has meant a fundamental shift in our operating model and working practice. We did not expect that it would be easy, and knew there would be challenges along the way. That’s why we have adopted the mindset that we need to work hard to overcome these difficulties in order to make the shift work. Our business and people have benefited from this persistence, which is certainly required if you are to challenge traditional ways of working that have been in place for almost 100 years. “We firmly believe the four-day week is the future of working life and it is encouraging to now see the range of businesses across the UK embracing the four-day week trials. We are a progressive bank and a progressive employer, and our experience in planning for and moving to a four-day week has shown that it is possible for businesses to do this and bring huge benefits to their people. We believe most organisations can move to a four-day week and we hope Atom’s experience will encourage more businesses to make the shift permanently."
Another Business that has wholeheartedly embraced new ways of working to effectively implement a successful four-day week is the American company Uncharted, led by their CEO Banks Benitez. Uncharted, a Denver-based social investment accelerator, moved permanently to a four-day week in September of 2020, after beginning their trial in April of the same year. Both the quantity and quality of employee performance did not change, as measured against Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) before the trial start date. Work life balance improved and employee stress decreased. This became apparent very soon into the trial period. The company’s recruitment and retention capabilities also increased. But how was the company able to move to a four-day week while maintaining productivity? There were three key factors that allowed Uncharted to move to a four-day week without experiencing any drop in productivity. The first of these was a move to output focused working. This started from the fundamental understanding that the number of hours worked - does not translate into the quality of the work performed. Instead, Uncharted began to focus more heavily on what was driving real results for the company and tailor their operations to centre on them. The mantra for this shift was, time invested matters less than results produced. “The four-day workweek is achieved not by placing the burden on individuals to become faster and more productive, but through getting better at prioritising and de-prioritising”, says Benitez. This insight was built on the infamous pareto principle, named after the nineteenth century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto and refined by the academic and management consultant, Joseph M. Juran, which states that 80% of all results come from just 20% of the work. The pareto principle has applications in walks of life, but it holds particularly true in business and productivity practices. Microsoft, for example, found that “80 percent of the errors in Windows and Office are caused by just 20 percent of the entire pool of bugs”. The logic follows that if they focus their efforts on fixing just 20% of bugs, they will actually prevent 80% of the errors. This is much less time consuming and much more effective than fixing every single bug, one at a time. By shifting the focus to what is actually producing results and reorienting business practice around this, you begin to operate much more efficiently. Firstly, in the sense of what we spend our working time doing. If we focus on what generates the best results, we are making the most productive use of our time possible. This allows the business to develop at a more streamlined rate. When time is managed to be more efficient, growth is boosted as the work carried out is always productive. It also creates a reduction in stress and burnout that we identified at the beginning of this chapter as detrimental to both health and work-related performance. If we are able to streamline working patterns and focus them more clearly, employees don’t suffer from an increasing number of competing demands being placed upon them that ultimately leads to burnout. This in turn decreases turnover of staff, which saves heaps of time onboarding and training new staff. Equally as importantly, it gives employees greater space and clarity to think more creatively while at work, increasing the frequency of light bulb ideas that can grow the business and make it even more successful. Giving employees a clearer focus will also help improve decision making. When workers know what is actually important and have been given the mandate to prioritise it, they are much more likely to make accurate decisions that will lead to improvements. As CEO Greg McKeown has observed, using data from over one hundred teams, “when there is a high level of clarity… people thrive”. The shift to output focused working ensures that resources are deployed in the most effective manner possible, as resources will be more effectively spent on what is producing the best outcomes, both reducing waste and optimising performance. Overall, it promotes better dialogue between senior managers and workers on what work the company should be doing. In this manner, leaders are held more accountable by staff, creating greater democratisation in the workplace, where everyone feels they are contributing significantly to the business’s success. While this method helps us highlight what work is essential, this does not mean that the other 80% of tasks should be readily discarded, as they may still be important. It is only to say that paying greater attention to the minority of work that produces the majority of important results, will allow you to work more effectively. This is why Juran referred to the 20/ 80 pareto distribution as "the vital few and the useful many". A four-day working week requires us to discard the mindset of quantity over quality, and adopt an alternative pattern of working that turns this myth on its head. We should focus on quality over quantity and design the way we work around this principle. Indeed, it seems strange that the phrase, quality over quantity has been a widely regarded part of our collective general wisdom for many years. So why haven’t we applied this convention to work? Uncharted did, and this was one of the main reasons they were able to smoothly transition to a four-day week. The next thing Uncharted did was to rethink the decision-making process and place more weight on making future proof decisions. Decision making is important and Benitez recognises this, citing making effective decisions as another method for successfully implementing a four-day week. Poor decision making can negatively affect productivity, revenue, reputation and staff motivation. According to Benitez, making better decisions is the best substitute for working longer. We have already seen how moving to output focused working can be incredibly helpful in making better decisions. It tells us where to focus the majority of our efforts, where to deploy our limited resources and how to organise our work in order to get the best results. However, good decision making doesn’t stop once you have identified the drivers of results, it’s a constantly evolving process that can keep your organisation on track and ensure it continues to remain streamlined and agile. The key to success here is to design decision making processes that lead to better outcomes. One good decision now can prevent a hundred downstream decisions that arise from a poor alternative. Decisions need to be made in order to continually maintain conditions for optimal performance and eliminate needless problems that sap time and energy and create drags on productivity. Decisions that are made either too hastily, in an emotional state, or that focus on short term success and are made without adequate data, are just some examples that could potentially all lead to otherwise unnecessary work down the road. Priority should be given to ensuring the correct decisions are taken to ensure that the staff’s energy is continually focused on the drivers of results, not preventable distractions arising from poor decisions. Alongside the move to output focused working and redesigning the decision-making process, Benitez rethought his company’s approach to client relations. Just as the dominant assumptions about hustle culture produce a reluctance to the four-day week, the popular attitude to client relations has a similar effect. Many client facing businesses are aware of the prevalence of what might be called the ‘customer is always right’ mentality and will often fall into the trap of working harder and longer to deliver for clients. Their view is that if the client wants something done, they are obligated to deliver, even if that means working every waking hour available to them. For any business, it is completely understandable that they want to offer the best level of service possible to clients. But this can be done without relenting to hustle culture and easily within the confines of the four-day week. Uncharted were able to provide the same level of service, if not better, by working smarter, not harder. Just as they conducted a Pareto inventory to identify the drivers of results in the business on a broad scale, they also conducted a similar, client-based inventory, identifying the factors that commonly led to the best outcomes for clients and used these to drive their service going forward. They identified successful strategies and areas where they had wasted time, along with opportunities for other efficiencies and improvements. This client audit allowed them to deliver a comparable and, in some cases, better level of service in a smaller time frame. Again, by focusing on the drivers of results, they were once again able to provide the same level of service in four days, simply by working smarter. They were also honest and open with clients. In order to ensure the new working pattern could be implemented properly. Benitez was careful to set positive boundaries and communicate them effectively. Good communication from the outset of the relationship is essential but even more so with clients when your business operates a four-day week. One of the strengths of Uncharted’s approach was that they were proactive in communications with clients as opposed to reactive. They listed non-negotiables with clients up front and clearly delineated their working hours to build positive working relationships and make the best use of their available time to communicate with clients. Most importantly, they also communicated that their aim behind moving to a four-day week was to work smarter and more efficiently to allow them to deliver, at the very least, the same level of service. No doubt many clients will welcome the positives from working with a business that seeks to improve staff wellbeing and business performance by adopting a four-day week, but what about clients who breach the boundaries set by four-day week employers, expecting five days of work to feel as though they are truly getting their value for money. Granted, this is rare, but clients that repeatedly try to breach any of the non-negotiables agreed at the outset of the relationship may prove difficult to work with. If problems arise once a partnership or working dynamic has been formed, Benitez recommends releasing those clients who prove to be highly problematic. In summary, we’ve always found a pro-active communication strategy with clients is the best approach. Be confident and clear in your communication about what you are setting out to achieve by moving to a four-day week and how the quality of work will not be affected. Most clients will be fine with this, and many will welcome this dynamic new approach. Uncharted is a perfect example of how a company can move to a four-day week by working smarter not harder. The company was able to maintain employee performance, while improving work life balance, decreasing stress levels and seeing benefits to their recruitment and retention capabilities, simply by reorganising and rethinking how the company operated. A four-day week that maintains productivity and, in some cases, improves it, is absolutely possible if implemented correctly. Simple measures such as focusing on what produces results, making good decisions and clearly communicating with clients allowed Uncharted to move to a four-day week with no drop in performance. The key to implementation is tweaking business practice to become more efficient by focusing on the drivers of real results and making good decisions, reorienting business practice around them and communicating this effectively with clients.
Community Integrated Care
Community Integrated Care, which delivers care to more than 3500 people across England and Scotland, also announced a four-day week for 300 staff in their HR, Finance and Quality offices. They hope to create a more supportive atmosphere for existing employees, whilst making the service attractive to new recruits. Employees have been given the option of working their usual hours but compressed over four days, taking either Monday or Friday as a non-working day. Chief People Officer, Teresa Exelby, said: “Our colleagues have shown us how well they have adapted to a remote and hybrid working approach over the past 18 months, so we’re thrilled that we’re able to build on these successes as we navigate our way through the post-pandemic workplace.” They aim to further roll out the change, including by expanding it to their operational staff. In the meantime, the opportunity remains to join the ranks of innovators bringing the benefits of flexibility and quality of life to the UK care sector.
Home Instead Senior Care
One of Australia’s leading senior care providers, Home Instead Senior Care, switched their employees from a 48-hour work week to 32 hours over 4 days, with no loss in pay. The franchise owner, Myles Beaufort, said: “it’s very easy to see our revenue has actually improved... Business has never been stronger and our team is the happiest, most productive group of people we’ve ever employed”.
Citizens Advice Bureau (Gateshead)
“One of the things that was really on my mind as the leader of this organisation was all the terrible things that I was absolutely convinced were going to go wrong. I literally wrote them down - a long list of everything that could possibly have happened and what I was going to do when each of those things happened. In reality, not one of them happened. - Alison Dunn, Chief Executive of Citizen's Advice Gateshead Her advice: “You just have to take a leap of faith. Once you have decided you're going, just go.” The results allayed Alison’s fears. Victoria, 38, has been a case worker at the charity Citizen's Advice (Gateshead) for five years. After experiencing 20% of her hours being cut while remaining on full pay, Victoria says it has had a huge impact on her focus during working hours, and it has lifted a lot of the stress of child care. With two children, one who is just starting school and an elder child who is disabled, the new working arrangement allows Victoria to be a constant in her children’s lives, and to do the school run each day. She said: “Our eldest son has complex needs and routine means everything to him. Knowing that the children have quality time and reassurance of routine with me, means I have had a weight lifted and I can be really focussed on work. It is working so well, and I am feeling really productive, consistently hitting my weekly target.” Paul Oliver, 49, Chief Operating Officer at Citizens Advice Gateshead, said the charity was keen on the idea of a four-day week as a way of improving job recruitment and retention. He said: “We wanted a way of delivering our services that ensured our clients were getting the best level of support from well rested and more productive staff and the four-day week was a game changer for us in that respect. We're really pleased with the results so far. In the months following the launch of the trial our sickness levels went down and staff retention levels went up, bucking the trend shown by other similar organisations recently. “It feels like it's really making a difference in so many crucial ways. Staff are getting more work done in less time and overall working more efficiently and effectively. Most of our services are seeing more clients than they were before the trial.” Louise, 50, is a Consumer Advisor at the charity who says the four-day week pilot is allowing her to be a more supportive partner and mum. Having been employed by the charity for nearly four years, Louise works to empower consumers with their legal rights. It is a very busy and hectic department, supporting people with issues on faulty goods and services, scam calls, doorstep callers and traders knocking on doors. On the four-day week, Louise takes a Thursday off. She says it has had a massive impact on her household as she can get chores done, and has time to look after her daughter who is awaiting an operation and visit her new partner who lives in Scotland. She said: “Personally, the four-day week means I can have my own time and get my jobs done. I go to Scotland every other weekend, and my daughter is having an operation soon, so fitting her appointments in on a Thursday means I can go with her. This means I feel more relaxed and pass that benefit back to the charity". “Work wise we are in a good position as we have quite a big team, around 30 of us, and it hasn’t affected our team performance or achievements negatively at all. In fact all of our targets are all being hit and each team member is currently helping 30 – 35 people on calls each day as an experienced advisor. Our clients are benefiting from an even higher quality service as we are all more refreshed. It is an intense role and you get tired by the end of week, so that extra day break allows you to be your best at all times.”
Matt Bolton, Director of a creative agency called Mox London who took part in the UK pilot, offers these words of advice: “the moment your mindset shifts to a four-day week, you become naturally more efficient.” He’s right and as someone who has worked a four-day week for the last five years we can back that up. When we write our to-do lists for the week we schedule our work into four-days rather than five and make sure the work that needs to be done - gets done. This is exactly the same as I would have done over 5 days previously but I’m now much more efficient with my time. Sometimes that can involve a slightly busier week, or a busier Thursday afternoon when you are racing to finish everything for the reward of Friday off - but that often feels good and you soon realise how much time is wasted working across five days. Matt is a big advocate of the four-day week and says it has been a major positive for his organisation and for him personally: “On a personal level, having an extra day off every week has been huge. It allows me to spend more time with my family and my son. Also, from a work perspective, it surprised me how much more focused I am.”
Since moving to a four-day work week to prioritise employee well-being, the company found a healthier work-life balance has helped employees produce more work they’re proud of and communicate better as a team, enabling the company to scale faster. Here is their advice for transitioning into a four-day week: • Review current processes and contact points for team members to maximise working hours. For example, evaluate calendar invites for long-standing calls and decide if time could be better spent. • Consider new methods of reporting and tracking progress across smaller time periods to stay on top of things with fewer working days. • Speak to team members 1-1 about how the four-day week will impact them (and how it is impacting them after implementation) to ensure they feel supported. Being aware of how the four-day week is affecting each team member is key. Founder and CEO, Bianca Rangecroft, elaborates, “Communication generally is so important - pre and post-moving to the four-day week. Be careful not to assume everyone will be immediately happy about this shift. Speaking to team members about how it could impact their workload and what they need to feel supported was a crucial step in making sure everyone was excited about the change, rather than worried about how it might make things more difficult. Having check-ins with the team to make sure they didn’t feel overwhelmed was key to ensuring the team adapted as best they could to this new working model.” Here are the lessons learned they learned: • Don't expect instantly noticeable changes (positive or negative)- it takes time to adapt to this new working structure. • Contrary to expectations, a four-day work week can increase momentum when working on projects with third parties. By handing over work on Thursday, partners have Friday to action, so team members can make immediate progress on Monday once back in the office. • Be prepared for team members to make more changes to their work or existing processes. The four-day week, and the additional headspace that it brings, encourages employees to make positive changes they want to see. Bianca Rangecroft explains, “The best work comes from having a motivated and happy team. This can only happen if employees are treated well and their needs as individuals are recognised in and outside of work. Moving to a four-day week shows the team that we are aware of their responsibilities and the importance of having free time. The four-day week has had a genuinely positive impact on employees' well-being. For example, people have more time to book doctors appointments or look after family, whilst still having time to enjoy life beyond their job. There is simply not enough time for this under a five-day working week. “The aim for us was never to produce the same amount of work with fewer days but to encourage the team to think more carefully about work that they’re doing, and in turn, produce work they’re really proud of. Having one day less a week prompts the team to properly evaluate the work they have planned and whether it’s actually needed – e.g. ‘How much will this contribute to our company goals’ or ‘Will the result be worth the time needed to action’. We’ve noticed that working this way has led to a greater quality of work from all team members, resulting in happier staff and ultimately happier users.”
Paul Kitching, who opened the 21212 restaurant in Edinburgh in 2009 with his partner Katie O’Brien, believed that reducing the number of days his employees spend at work every week would be beneficial for their work-life balance. Paul said: ‘Throughout my years in the industry, I have seen the effects that the pressure of the kitchen can have on an individual. I believe that this stress is not conducive to a thriving and creative environment, so it is important to introduce an atmosphere to the kitchen that brings perspective and helps the chefs to perform at their best.' After the introduction of the four-day week he said, ‘Introducing a four-day working week was a natural step for us, and as a result we have seen the motivation and creativity of the team grow. We have encouraged the 21212 team to spend their extra day a week with their families and friends, discover new restaurants, go to the gym, eat great food and enjoy life!' Unfortunately, Paul passed away in December 2022 and 21212 closed in April 2023. Paul’s success in pioneering the four-day week in the hospitality sector is a great example of how the four-day week is possible in hospitality and a wonderful part of his legacy.
Pressure Drop Brewery
“If you can do this in a small production environment, it demonstrates that the five-day week is a construct and something that could have been gotten rid of a long time ago.” - Sam Smith, Founder of Pressure Drop Brewery in North London. Pressure Drop Brewery in Tottenham, North London, has been in the business of selling craft beers for around ten years. As part of a qualitative research project on the UK pilot, we spoke to one of its founders, who started the business with hopes of differentiating it from bigger, more growth-focused operations. A founding principle of the company was to ‘create jobs that fit around our lives.’ “We’re a bit more mellow-paced. When we started the business we wanted to change the way we worked,” said the founder. The current manager became interested in the four-day week because he hoped the brewery “could become a leader in something positive”. He also saw the policy as consistent with their broader ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of the business through investments in green energy. Being in manufacturing, he feels he has a point to prove. The manager said: “If you can do this in a small production environment, it demonstrates that the five-day week is a construct and something that could have been gotten rid of a long time ago.” How were they going to make it work? The brewery adopted a staggered four-day week model in order to maintain production over 5 days. The plan was to split the production team into two groups, with one taking Mondays off and the others taking Fridays (swapping each month). Staff also told us about the significant preparation period before the pilot. As part of the lead-in, the brewers studied their brewing process closely, breaking down the tasks involved, running their phone timers in their pockets, searching for new efficiencies, and developing a new set of production targets. One brewer describes an atmosphere of excitement, solidarity and challenge around finding ways to reduce working time: “It’s like cooking a huge Sunday roast, trying to get everything to finish at the same time.” A phrase we heard a lot in our conversations with staff was ‘mucking in’. On days where not everyone is present, staff could be required to jump in on tasks that may have previously been outside their remit, helping with brewing, packaging, or picking up the phone. The staff we interviewed celebrated the sharing of skills and sense of collective effort involved. The manager said “the whole team now does what the manager does”, by forecasting busy periods and identifying what needs attention. When we asked him whether he was worried about work becoming more intense, he said they were busier, but less stressed: “Being busy doesn’t make you stressed, being out of control is what makes you stressed… We want to be more busy, less stressed. I don’t like being bored at work, I like it when there’s an atmosphere of things happening… If we’re busy it means there is a lot of beer going out of the door and things are going well.”
Another employer who decided to make the move to a four-day week, in 2015, is CMG Technologies, a leading metal injection moulding producer, based in Suffolk. Rachel Garrett, Managing Director, said this decision was motivated by a desire to improve staff wellbeing and job retention as well as attracting talented workers. They are a highly specialised company, meaning that recruiting and training new staff can be a challenge. Management approached staff to propose the new working model, and asked each person to discuss with their team how to reconfigure their shift patterns to reduce hours and ensure that there was always cover when needed. Directors then reviewed these proposals to assess whether they were reasonable, and then began to implement the new shifts. They now have different shift patterns: some employees work Monday to Thursday, others Tuesday to Friday, and others work weekend shifts. This ensures that someone is always on the shop floor and that use of the machinery is maximised. Because people chose to make their working time reductions in different ways - some opted for shorter hours across 5 days - one challenge was to work out how to assign the right amount of holidays. To do this, they changed their system so that holidays are counted in hours rather than days. They calculated how many hours of holiday each person gets based on each person’s average working day, and multiplied that by the amount of days they get. A key challenge was ensuring that output could be maintained with a loss of labour. They did this by investing in robotics as well as scrutinising existing processes to identify parts of it which were labour intensive and looking at how those aspects could be optimised. They now have less scrap and a more efficient process. These technological improvements involved small up-front costs, which have been more than paid off by a consistent uplift in profits, turnover and productivity since the introduction of the four-day week. This is in part attributable to employee retention being very high, so they are not constantly having to spend time and money recruiting and training. The better work-life balance has also meant sick leave is at an all-time low. Rachel says that since making the change, employees are much more likely to “give their all” to the job, because they feel cared for by their employer, and “better in themselves”. Having the extra time to do life-admin, book appointments, and recoup means they return to work refreshed and motivated.
We’ve seen various methods used when preparing for a trial but a slightly more unusual approach was taken by Skincare Cosmetics company, 5 Squirrels, based in Brighton. Rather than implementing the four-day week on an agreed set date, they gradually introduced it over a period of 4 weeks. In week 9 of their 12 weeks preparation, staff left at 3pm on a Friday. In week 10, staff left at 1pm, Week 11 - 11am and by week 12 they were more than ready to skip Friday altogether. In many respects, this is not too dissimilar to the many organisations that have already introduced nine-day fortnights. The nine-day fortnight is effectively 50 per cent of the way to a four-day week so is definitely another option to consider for organisations that don’t feel ready to go the full hurdle, and could help pave the way for achieving a true four-day week eventually. Gary Conroy, the CEO of 5 Squirrels is a big advocate of the four-day week and has taken part in two 4 Day Week Rollout Programmes as an ambassador. His organisation took part in the major UK pilot involving 61 companies and the trial was so successful at 5 Squirrels that Gary was one of the 18 companies that decided to make the move permanent as soon as the trial ended. Speaking about how they did it, he said: “The world of work is changing and we wanted to place the emphasis on productivity, not hours worked. We’re trying to run a profitable, productive company and we believe that one of the ways of doing that is by having higher employee engagement and happier members of staff who are not burnt out the whole time and have a good quality of life outside work. We can get a lot more done in less time, meaning that we are then free to have more time off.” Gary ‘s dedication to the preparation period of implementation was stronger than most and he said they introduced “deep work” time to help with productivity, where staff dedicate two-hour periods to work without emails or messages to distract them. It also cut meetings back to a bare minimum, and ensured any that do get scheduled were limited to 30 minutes and at certain time periods. As a result of implementing the four day week, Gary says: “Our productivity is up, our profitability is up, our sales are up, our output is up. So why would you go back to dragging it out into another day? It’s really counterintuitive.”
David Cann, the Chief Executive of Target Publishing in Essex, introduced a four-day working week for his staff after the first wave of coronavirus struck. “It was forced upon us to begin with as the pandemic hit our business, advertising revenue dried up and so we asked our staff to take a 20 per cent pay cut to reduce costs,” he said. In return, he offered to reduce his workers’s hours by 20 per cent, meaning they were only asked to work four days a week. “We noticed that we didn’t see any drop off in productivity during that time and so when business began to pick up again, I returned the staff to 100 per cent pay and offered them the chance to keep to a four-day working week,” he added. “We have seen no drop in productivity or any further drop in profitability. I just felt like giving something back to my staff after the pandemic, and I think it will help with job retention.”
In September 2022, CEO Rosie Davies implemented a 4-day work week at PR Dispatch after previously working a half-day Friday since 2018. Rosie wanted to join many other businesses trialling the four-day week As a result of the move to a four-day week, Rosie’s team experienced an improved work-life balance, increased productivity, higher levels of morale, motivation and innovation. PR dispatch’s move to the four day week has also streamlined their workflow and helped them prioritise essential work, eliminating unproductive tasks and creating a more focused environment for staff. Rosie says, “Overall, I believe that reevaluating the traditional 9-5, five-day workweek and exploring creative alternatives like the four-day work week is a great way for businesses to evolve post-pandemic. It cultivates a happier and more productive workforce, benefiting both myself and my team.”
Merthyr Valleys Homes
A housing association with approximately 250 employees has many functions, including building maintenance, running a community youth service, operating several community centres and keeping the neighbourhood tidy. The CEO describes the organisation as an anchor in the community. The association is run as a mutual, guided by a democratic body made up of employees and tenants. The democratic body is responsible for electing a board, whose CEO compares the organisation to a fan-owned football club: “it’s power sharing”. In line with these governance principles, the organisation was firm about the fact that any four-day week policy would have to be shaped in a democratic fashion, and also be flexible enough to include all staff. This meant that the daily challenges of office teams, community-facing teams, and trades teams all had to be considered. To incorporate this diversity, the organisation opted for a decentralised four-day week, with different working patterns in different departments. The CEO believed that staff with experience on the ground are the best equipped to make key decisions. Each department was therefore supported to design its own four-day week model. “We took the decision that everyone knows their own job better than anyone else,” said the CEO. In the buildup to the pilot, all staff members took part in pre-trial workshops with their teams, envisioning how the four-day work week might change their lives and debating the best implementation model to fit the nature of their work. Each team then produced a two minute video explaining their chosen four-day week model, and these videos were shared across the organisation. Staff we interviewed about the preparation process described a need to find a sweet spot between coverage needs and staff preferences. Some teams had opted to use a rolling four-day week rota system, in which staff book their days off at the start of each month. This allowed staff to fit work around their personal priorities on a shifting basis. Reflecting on the pilot preparation period, staff always praised the pilot as a catalyst for innovating around work processes. The CEO repeatedly described the pilot process as ‘refreshing’. “The conversations people were having, they would not have had if not for the shared incentive of making this work… It has been like flicking on a switch for some folks”, said their CEO. We heard a lot of stories about the time-saving ideas generated in the preparatory workshops. The trades staff have reduced their travel time to and from the building supplier by having more foresight about what materials are needed and finding better ways to organise their van. They also now feel comfortable going home early when there is less to do. Office teams are automating certain processes and redesigning others to involve fewer personnel, and community facing teams have taken lessons forward from remote working, having realised that some smaller issues can be dealt with adequately over the phone. The staff and CEO were all clearly proud of the collective approach taken to the pilot preparations, describing it as a positive experience. Staff knowledge and involvement were seen as key to making the four-day week a sincere and realistic policy, rather than an empty gesture. The CEO said: “What we don’t want is this underground of people who are notionally working a four-day week but secretly working at the weekend to catch up.”