There’s nothing quite like taking a Friday off work, is there? Whether it’s a bank holiday, a cheeky block of annual leave, or a sick day (legitimate, we hope!), the accompanying weekend is a joy nobody would give up.

When we work a short week, we’re usually more rested, happier, and more eager to get to work when we return. There’s more opportunity to catch up on life admin, spend time with friends and family, get out into nature, or sit around doing nothing.

Many companies continue to experiment with shorter working weeks in a bid to improve their workers’ lives and productivity. But while it was in vogue during the workplace upheavals of the 2020 pandemic, it’s not quite changed the world as much as some proclaimed.

Let’s revisit the concept and see if it’s still a good idea or not.

How a four day work week works

It works by reallocating the standard 35-hour work schedule into four days rather than five, without reducing overall pay. The idea is to give you an extra day to yourself, potentially increasing job satisfaction and productivity levels, as well as reducing burnout.

The important thing to note in these projects is that staff are being paid no differently than when they worked 5 days. The point of these programs is to fit essential work into less time by being smarter and more efficient.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen talk about compressed hours schedules: 4-day work weeks that are still made of the same hours. That is, working two extra hours Monday-Thursday to make up for a Friday off. This article in The Conversation shows how workers’ health can sometimes increase with the extra day of rest (and one less return journey to work). But ’not all hours are created equal’, and not many people can effectively work for 10 hours straight, 4 days in a row. The stress of cramming it all in can outweigh the benefits of the extra time off.

It’s the reduced-hours-for-full-pay model that’s the most interesting - and it seems to work.

Making it work in practice

It’s worth mentioning Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning company in New Zealand, who tested a four-day fully-paid work week during 2018. 78% of staff said they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance throughout the experiment (an increase of 24% compared to before). It worked so well that since then, they’ve implemented the program permanently and their director has gone on to campaign for shorter work weeks.

Efficiency was a focus when the program was started. Management talked to each employee about how they were going to complete their essential tasks in the shorter timeframe, and soon enough, workers figured out their own preferred ways of doing things. Some used new software to save time, and some used monitoring tools to look at where their time was being spent, eliminating unproductive things like web surfing or frivolous meetings.

Staff were also allowed to choose their extra day off (it didn’t have to be Friday) and experiment with work times other than the standard 9-5. This meant office use was more spread out, meaning it was quieter overall, helping people to work better throughout the day.

Was it just a passing fad?

The Monday-Friday, 9-5 office job isn’t going anywhere, at least for a while. It’s deeply ingrained into working culture despite not being particularly ideal for every type of job. We’ve been conditioned to think that working longer hours equates to working harder, and therefore being productive. But thankfully, attitudes are slowly starting to change.

Perpetual Guardian certainly made an impact, with loads of other companies following suit – even more so during the pandemic. But have things died down since then?

The results are in from the world's biggest four day week trial – and it's looking pretty good.

The British trial, which involved a whopping 61 UK companies and nearly 3,000 workers, put the four-day week to the test over a six-month period. And guess what? The vast majority of firms – we're talking 92% – have decided to stick with the shortened workweek.

More than half (55%) of project managers and CEOs said a four-day week – in which staff worked 100% of their output in 80% of their time – had a positive impact on their organisation, the report found.

How the four-day week is going around the world

In Belgium, the move towards a more flexible work schedule has made significant headway. It’s the first country in the European Union to formally introduce the four-day work week as an option for workers. This pioneering decision provides a framework for others in Europe to potentially follow suit.

Scotland is also actively exploring this work model, with a state-supported trial aiming to understand the benefits on a larger scale. The Scottish Government, alongside the think tank Autonomy, have launched the “4 Day Working Week Public Sector Pilot” which should run throughout 2024.

In 2024, a six-month trial involving a wide range of industries and over 1,000 employees was launched in Australia, looking at the impact of a four-day workweek on productivity, well-being, and work-life balance. We’ll have to see how that pans out, but it’s quite a broad trial.

In February 2024, Germany launched a six-month trial involving 45 companies across the country, allowing employees to work one less day per week while maintaining their full-time pay.

While there is no nationwide four-day workweek program in the United States, some American companies like Microsoft and Shake Shack have experimented with or implemented shorter workweeks to improve employee satisfaction and productivity.

Let's not forget Microsoft Japan, too, where sales per employee skyrocketed by nearly 40% during their trial run.

In 2023, the Welsh government announced plans to trial a four-day workweek, with a £2.5 million fund to support participating businesses. The trial aims to explore the potential benefits of a shorter working week for both employers and employees in Wales.

And for transparency, here’s one that hasn’t been a roaring success. In 2022, Ireland launched a six-month pilot program involving 20 companies to test the feasibility and benefits of a four-day workweek, with the support of 4 Day Week Global.

Since then, only 3.5% of workplaces in Ireland have actually implemented or trialled a four-day work week, down from 6% in 2022. One survey found that approximately 95% of respondents think a four-day work week is a good idea, and 81% believe it will become a reality within the next 10 years.

While there is significant worker interest in a four-day week, businesses in Ireland remain cautious about implementing it. There are definitely concerns around things like maintaining productivity, operational challenges, and potential negative impacts on work-life balance. There are also questions about how a four-day week could affect workplace flexibility and create a "two-tier workforce".

The benefits of a four-day work week

So, what's in it for your business? Quite a lot, actually.

First and foremost, it's a fantastic way to boost productivity. When employees have a better work-life balance, they're more focused and motivated during their working hours. It's like they've got an extra spring in their step, knowing they've got that extra day off to look forward to.

And speaking of that extra day, it can do wonders for preventing burnout. We've all been there – feeling like we're running on empty, struggling to keep up with the demands of a five-day week. But with a shorter working week, your team has more time to recharge their batteries, pursue their hobbies, and spend quality time with loved ones.

That's why companies across the United Kingdom are getting on board with the 4-day week campaign. They know that it's not just about the bottom line – it's about creating a working environment that prioritises mental health and well-being.

But the benefits don't stop there. Offering a four-day working week can also be a game-changer when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. In today's job market, flexible working arrangements are more important than ever. If you offer a 4-day week, you're showing your employees that you value their labour and work-life balance, and are willing to think outside the box to create a better working environment.

And let's not forget the potential cost savings. With one less day of commuting, you could see a reduction in expenses like electricity and office supplies. Plus, if your employees are happier and healthier, you may see a decrease in absenteeism and turnover rates.

Transitioning to a four-day work week can profoundly influence your well-being and job satisfaction.

How companies can transition to the four-day week

Now, we know what you might be thinking. "Sounds great, but how do we make it work for our company?" It’s a fair question. Implementing a 4-day workweek does come with its own set of challenges. You might need to get creative with scheduling, ensure you're still meeting customer needs, and keep the lines of communication open with your team. But don't let that put you off – plenty of companies have found ways to make it work, and with a bit of planning and flexibility, you can too.

For a smooth transition to a four-day work week, you should think about your business's core operating hours. If your team currently works standard hours, you could consider either a reduction to 32 hours with no loss of pay as an incentive for retention, or maintain 40 hours condensed into four days. Offering the option for both would raise the chances of keeping more people happy with the arrangement.

Consultancy firms in the UK might find the switch beneficial as it can lead to more focused work time. Public sector and non-profit organisations might face more scrutiny, given their commitments to public service and budget constraints. So companies in these sectors should weigh the benefits of a three-day weekend to boost employee morale against the need to maintain consistent public services without increasing waiting times or decreasing quality.

The transition isn’t something we can guide you through in a blog post, but you probably already knew that. The way it works out will really depend on how your business operates.

How to ask your boss for a four day work week

I went down to a 4 day week once, working a marketing management job. When talking to HR about the arrangement, which involved a 20% pay cut to go along with the 20% cut in hours, I was asked “Do you think you’ll be able to get all your work done in the shorter week?” Not wanting to rock the boat (it was my idea initially), I said yes, of course. But really, I should have said no - I’ll get 80% of my work done, because that’s what you’ll be paying me for.

If you want to have the conversation with your boss in a more professional way than I did, check out our flexible working request template. It’s a letter you can customise that’ll help you ask for a shorter work week or any kind of different working pattern – whether that’s working a half day every Friday, doing remote work for half your week, or even doing a 9-day fortnight.

Remember to promote the business case for it – focus on the benefits it’ll bring to the company as well as yourself.

It can be a bit glib to promote disruptive ways of working like this as if stuffy non-believers are stuck in the past. Realistically, it won’t work for every business - the Wellcome Trust tried to implement it for their hundreds of staff but found that keeping it fair for everyone was just too complex. So if you’re in a customer-facing job that needs you available for a certain amount of time, it just might not be an option.

Looking ahead

So, as we look ahead to 2025 and beyond, it's clear that the 4-day workweek is here to stay.

UK workers have the longest working week in Europe, but can’t boast the strongest economy, so something needs to change. Maybe we should be working smarter, not harder.

It's not just a flash in the pan – it's a real opportunity to revolutionise the way we work, boost your company's success, and create a happier, healthier workforce.

Imagine a world where people have more time to invest in their communities, pursue their passions, and take care of their mental health. It's a vision worth striving for, and it all starts with forward-thinking companies like yours.

And with more and more companies getting on board, there's never been a better time to give it a try.