Wed. May 25th, 2022


First it was to work from home. Now it’s the four-day work week that shakes business life in ways that would have seemed unthinkable before Covid-19.

At least, that’s what you’re thinking about the news over the last few weeks. Last Tuesday it was The Landmark London, a swish hotel in Marylebone, which said it offers a four-day week, at a higher fee, to its chefs.

The day before, a British division of Japan’s Canon camera company said it was considering a four-day weekly pilot for its 140 staff members and British think tanks said they were recruiting companies for a six-month trial of the concept.

Less than two weeks earlier, Canon’s Japanese rival Panasonic unveiled plans to offer its staff a four-day option to improve their work-life balance. And before that, a shorter week was tested, planned or launched across the UK Atoom Bank on That of Unilever New Zealand offices, Iceland, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

But four-day fans have to hold on to the champagne, as new British research shows that, as things stand, the four-day work week is far from over.

Only 7 percent of drivers launched it, or decided to do so, according to Be the business, a UK non-profit group set up to boost productivity.

It is slightly higher from 5 percent in February last year, when the group last interviewed directors across the country from small and medium-sized companies, and the share they say they think about has also risen, from 17 to 20 percent.

Nearly half of those without a shorter week say they are more likely to consider the concept than before the pandemic, but nearly 30 percent say they will never consider it.

These findings are consistent with those of another survey among UK executives of mostly larger businesses that Chartered Management Institute commissioned this month.

Only 6 per cent of them had a week of four days and although more than half said their organization was actively considering the idea, or would do so, a striking 73 per cent said they thought it was highly unlikely that it was adopted will be.

This is despite the fact that the vast majority thought a week of four days would boost productivity while making employees happier and easier to maintain.

Still, I suspect it won’t be long before the four-day week starts galloping rather than crawling. Why? Because younger managers are much more interested in the idea than the older leaders they are about to replace.

Nearly 80 percent of senior executives under the age of 35 like the idea of ​​adopting a four-day week, compared to 56 percent of those aged 55 or older, the Chartered Management Institute data showed.

That age gap was also evident in the Be The Business research, which also showed that female bosses were slightly more eager for the shorter week than men: 64 percent versus 57 percent.

It certainly worked well for Rachel Garrett, the 40-year-old managing director of CMG Technologies, a highly specialized metal injection molding company in Suffolk. The company moved its 30 staff members to a four-day week in 2015, with no reduction in pay, in the hope that it would keep them satisfied.

“For us, it’s critical to keep staff and keep staff happy,” Garrett told me last week, adding turnover has increased by 25 percent since the shorter week began, while profits have risen by 200 percent.

She does not think the four-day week is entirely responsible for this, but believes it had a significant impact.

Intuitively, it still seems difficult to imagine how the switch to a four-day week would benefit a business, despite the growing number of case studies suggesting that it may. But intuition can be flawed.

The once daring idea of ​​a weekend arose after the Industrial Revolution ushered in furious factory work that left workers in a state of perpetual exhaustion. As the British policy analyst James Plunkett tells in his book, Final state, progressive employers found shorter hours of energetic workers, whose hourly productivity and overall output increased.

Perhaps it’s not so hard to imagine that workers burned out by today’s revolution in technology could be more productive than the two – day long weekend stretching to three.

pilita.clark@ft.com



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