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This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

We’re used to the idea of a traditional Monday to Friday working week, with Saturday and Sunday set aside for shopping, family time and – weather allowing – barbeques.  But the weekend as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon that came about following the industrial revolution, with faith and workers’ rights two key factors in pushing for change in the UK, Australia and USA.  In 1933, Boots were one of the first UK companies to offer staff a two-day weekend, quickly realising that this change resulted in an increase in employee productivity, and reductions in absenteeism. The weekend as we now know it was born. 

So, if employees are more productive and less likely to take time of sick when they have two leisure days rather than just one each week, would a 4-day working week produce even more impressive results? Particularly when automative technology offers efficiency benefits.  An extra day for employees to rest, relax, recuperate; volunteer or explore other self-development options is now more than a utopian pipedream, with a number of major employers and governments exploring the viability of a reduced working week.  That’s the conclusion of a 2019 report by the think-tank, Autonomy [1].   We’ve had UK legislation offering the right to request flexible working since 2002 and many employees now benefit from part-time, compressed or term-time hours.  But a 4-day, 32-hour working week would be different:  employees would see no reduction in salary as a result. 

The arguments are persuasive. Workplaces can side-step that “Friday afternoon fatigue” which has the potential to impact safe and quality work.  Employees get a chance to pursue interests and projects they’d been meaning to start but needed to shelve because of time pressures.  A recent study showed a happy workforce could mean an increase in productivity of 14% [2]. Wellbeing and mental health gains could be made without impacting productivity.  Currently poor mental health at work costs employers an estimated £33-42 billion annually [3]. Overwork is the major reason for sickness at work, with a quarter of all sick days lost as a direct result of workload [4].  In fact, when we compare working hours across Europe, it’s clear that a shorter working week does not equal a struggling economy.  Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany all have lower annual work hours and higher GDP per capita than the UK.  With an extra day per week, there will be more time to tackle the unpaid workload of household chores, with women completing on average 40% more housework than men [5], a 4-day working week has the potential to tackle gender equality. In addition, reduced journeys to a workplace can only benefit our environment.    

There’s been numerous studies that show reduced working hours as beneficial.  A Swedish care-home trial in 2015, where staff worked a 6 hour rather than an 8 hour day resulted in reduced absenteeism, and increased perceived health and productivity in the nurses [6].  A comparable experiment at a New Zealand trustee company produced similar results [7].  So, we know it works in practice.  UK companies that have moved to a reduced working week include Southampton accountancy firm Bright Horizon Cloud, Cardiff based Indycube and Glaswegian telemarketing consultancy firm, all showing positive results from the transition. 

All of this feels timely.  With the recent increase in working from home, plenty of employees, no longer burdened by the daily commute, and are finding they have become more productive, confirming the results of a study into remote workers at a Chinese travel website who became 13.5% more efficient when moving to working from home [8].  This, along with the numerous opportunities automation offers industry, means the same work can be achieved in less time.  Lockdown has shown that employees and managers can adapt to working differently for the benefit of the organisation.  This bodes well for the future transition to 4-day working patterns. So, could the 4-day working week be a reality soon, and not just the subject of Friday afternoon daydreams from exhausted employees? 

About Anthony Savage

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

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About Sparta Health

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