Exploring the Pros and Cons of the 4-Day Week: A Path to Enhanced Work-Life Balance and Productivity?
by Anj Popat
15/08/23Back to insights
In the ever-evolving landscape of work, innovative concepts like the four-day work week have been gaining momentum. With South Cambridgeshire having recently announced their four-day week trial a large number of the local authorities we work with have been interested in how it could potentially work for them, what the benefits could be, and what the challenges would be to implement in a public sector environment. Especially with the recent commentary from Government on South Cambridgeshire’s trial.
To discuss the topic further, and whether the concept could help local authorities to attract and retain talent in a competitive jobs market, I hosted a webinar in partnership with the PPMA and was joined by a panel of experts. The event was introduced by Steve Davies, Treasurer and Secretary of PPMA and our two panellists were Aidan Rave, Principal Consultant at Good Governance Institute, and Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign. Joe, alongside his team, is currently campaigning for a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay which would, from their research, benefit workers, employers, the economy, our society and our environment. Aidan has a very practical insight into the workings of local government and the critical importance of effective governance at the heart of high-performing organisations.
The discussion revolved around the practical implications and the potential opportunities and challenges that implementing the four-day week could bring. What this concept means for work-life balance and how it can impact productivity and what the other potential benefits are. The conversation was tailored to address the specific needs and challenges of the public sector.
To start the discussion Joe Ryle shared his practical insights into the implementation of the four-day workweek across various organisations and public sector bodies. He highlighted the case of South Camb
Joe emphasised the importance of communication when transitioning to a shorter workweek and the need to get the right level of support for the organisation to ensure it lands successfully with all stakeholders.
“The first thing to do is spend 3 months preparing for it, during which organisations need to dig deep and really think about what work can be sped up, what can be done differently, what can be removed.”
Joe, said that these are incredibly important conversations and often very rewarding as everyone is working together to get to the same goal, to achieve the same but in lesser hours.
Aidan Rave pointed out the value proposition challenge that organisations face in a competitive job market. He stressed that beyond monetary compensation, the quality of work-life balance and overall well-being plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent, which he raised as being a critical factor in the public sector at the moment.
Aidan spoke about how he believed there will be lots of practical things to think about before public sector organisations put this into practice but solutions can be found and these can be dealt with.
“There will be lots of practical things to take into consideration and to overcome but I do think
we can find solutions to them all.”
The biggest thing that Aidan feels needs to be addressed is the political implementations. This has already been shown in the government's response to the South Camb
Joe, also added to this point that it’s been over 100 years since we made the shift from a six-day workweek to the standard five-day model and that the transition to a four-day workweek is long overdue. He discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented opportunity to reevaluate the dynamics of work. He also said that:
“In the past 13 years, the public sector has faced huge budget constraints but this offers an opportunity for public sector workers to stand up and innovate. There have been ten councils expressing interest in conducting their own trials stands as a testament to the transformative potential of this concept.”
The Data behind it
The discussion then took a data-driven turn, showcasing the results of real-world trials.
Joe spoke about Iceland's public sector experiment, which showed increased productivity, staff retention, and wellness over a 3-4 year period. The costs associated with the shorter workweek became neutral over time.
In South Camb
Aidan, added that during a recent visit to the Google Headquarters in London, he noticed a shift in perspective – a departure from the traditional notion of strict regulation towards a focus on tasks. This shift underscores the importance of granting employees the freedom and flexibility to accomplish tasks in ways that resonate with their unique approaches and strengths and allows for an inclusive workforce that also addresses some of the neurodiversity challenges. Aidan, said that the public sector cannot ignore the shift in the new ways of working and the four-day week discussions as otherwise they run the risk of being left behind and recruitment and retention issues only getting worse.
The conversation also touched on the relationship between hybrid working and the four-day workweek and how they can complement each other, allowing employees to balance flexibility and reduced hours for better overall performance. However, challenges such as determining which days off would work best for different organisations and accommodating part-time workers must be thoughtfully addressed. Some solutions for compensating current part-time employees has been to reduce their hours, increase pay or to increase their annual leave allowance.
The webinar provided valuable insights into the potential of the four-day workweek in the public sector. Through practical implementations, data-driven analysis, and discussions on overcoming challenges, it became evident that this concept has the potential to revolutionise work patterns.
While the journey towards a shorter workweek may come with its share of complexities, I believe the collective effort to explore its merits promises a brighter future for work-life balance, productivity, and the overall well-being of employees. However the need to continue collecting data and addressing lingering questions underscores the importance of this ongoing conversation which the sector needs to come together to discuss.
*South Cambs Trial Details
In January 2023, a trial of a four-day workweek was initiated for Council staff. The decision for the trial was made during a Cabinet meeting on September 12, 2022, with an initial three-month period agreed upon. Following this, an extension of the trial for 12 months was approved during a Cabinet meeting on May 15, 2023. The decision to extend was based on independently-analysed data that indicated the success of the initial trial.
To ensure an unbiased analysis, the Council engaged the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. This independent review included data from 18 key performance areas, spanning Planning, Housing, Transformation, Human Resources, Corporate Services, and Finance.
The findings from the analysis are as follows:
- Nine out of the
sixteenmonitored areas demonstrated substantial improvement when comparing the trial period (January to March) with the same period in 2022.
- The remaining seven areas either maintained similar levels of performance compared to the same period in the previous year or experienced a slight decline.
- It's noteworthy that none of the performance areas reached concerning levels during the trial, according to the Bennett Institute's evaluation.
- This data-driven assessment showcases the positive impact of the four-day workweek trial on various key performance metrics within the Council.
What was clear from the discussion that followed the presentation is that more time is needed to fully think through the pros and cons of a four-day working week and we will be in touch shortly with ideas on how to take this debate forward. In the mean-time, if you’d like to hear more about these findings or the work of the Four Day Week Campaign then please get in touch.
In the ever-evolving landscape of work, innovative concepts like the four-day work week have been gaining momentum. To discuss the topic further, and whether the concept could help local authorities to attract and retain talent in a competitive jobs market, I hosted a webinar in partnership with the PPMA and was joined by a panel of experts.