Will the Four Day Week become the New Normal?

Much has been reported about the way that the pandemic has affected people’s mental health. People have had to juggle work, a home, a family, and a relationship. And that’s all before factoring in concerns about elderly relatives they hadn’t been able to see. 

So, it comes as little surprise that attitudes to the work/life balance have been cast into the spotlight. We have already seen many firms offering greater flexibility in remote working. Now millions of people say they would welcome a shorter working week in exchange for a better work/life balance.

But is this possible in the real world, or is it just the stuff of dreams?

Some believe that losing a day of productivity would be a resounding blow to the economy. But some argue that fewer hours encourages greater ‘focus’ time during the remaining working hours, thus increasing productivity.

What The Trials Tell Us

The good news is that other countries are already experimenting with a four day week, so we can glean the various positives and negatives from real life examples. Iceland, for example, trailed a four-day week between 2015 and 2016. Run by Reykjavik City Council and the national government – so largely only public-sector workers – the results were surprisingly favourable. 

Some 2,500 workers (equating to around 1% of Iceland’s workforce) took part in the trial that saw them move to a four day week. With no loss of pay, their working week was reduced from 40 hours to, typically, 35-36 hours. The trial was hailed as an ‘overwhelming success’ with workers reporting less stress and burnout, better health and an improved work/life balance. 

Spain and New Zealand are now also following suit. So, the working world will no doubt be keen to see the results.

Whether a four day week could be applied across all sectors of the economy is yet to be seen. What is clear is that the pandemic has unquestionably changed working patterns and attitudes. People now have different expectations from work and the emphasis is firmly on health and well-being. 

What It Means For Businesses

It seems clear that employers would like the majority of their staff back in the office. But, it seems equally clear that millions of people prefer working from home – spending more time with their family and less money on commuting – and want that to continue. 

The early indications are that staff may win this battle. Zoom – which has become an integral part of people’s working lives over the last couple of years – has bet billions on hybrid working continuing. And that’s even as the Government urges staff to return to the office. 

Zoom has struck a £10.7bn deal to buy cloud-based call-centre operator Five9. Eric Yuan (Zoom’s boss) says it will allow customers to “re-imagine the way they do business” as Zoom prioritises its cloud-calling product Zoom Phone and the conference-hosting Zoom Rooms. 

Whatever happens – and employers are going to find it very difficult to insist that people come back to the office – one thing is certain. The pandemic and the relentless march of technology has changed the face of work forever, and businesses would be wise to adapt in whatever way they can.



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Written by Steve Burns

Steve is a chartered financial planner who has been with Lewis Brownlee for over 20 years, who now heads up Lewis Brownlee Financial Services. Under his directorship, the firm has established itself as a specialist provider of professional, informed and impartial advice.

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