The pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to the world of work. This has mostly resulted in changes to work locations, with homeworking or hybrid working becoming commonplace. However, some organisations are planning more radical changes and moving away from the traditional five-day working week.

Between June and December 2022, 60 companies in Britain, from both the public and private sectors, will participate in a pilot scheme run by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, examining whether a shorter work week may boost productivity while promoting a better work-life balance.

Four-day work week Models 

There are different models for a four-day work week:

  • Reducing working hours whilst paying employees the same salary;
  • Reducing working hours with a commensurate reduction in salary; or
  • Keeping working hours the same, but spreading them over four days, rather than five.

In a recent survey by the Social Market Foundation, 80% of workers stated that they would not be in favour of a shorter working week if it meant a reduction in pay. The first of the models above is generally preferred by employees. For employers, greater productivity is achieved through employees being less stressed and the introduction of new working practices and utilising technology to become more efficient.

Is Your Business Considering a Four-Day Working Week

Changing work patterns

On a practical level, changing work patterns will require careful planning and preparation. An extra day off is usually considered a positive change if employees are only working four days. Employers will need to consider how workloads can be managed in fewer hours. If daily hours are to be increased to allow an extra day off each week, there is a risk of employees being overworked, which may undermine any proposed benefit of the changes.

As a business, customers are likely to expect the same service levels, and employees will need to have different days off to continue to meet customer demand over five days. This could cause issues for employees, who may feel they are treated less favourably or cause alienation from other team members.

Any change in contractual terms will generally require express agreement from employees. Before introducing a new contract, the changes should be discussed with employees, explaining why the change is being proposed and how and when it will be implemented. Employers should listen to any concerns employees raise, as the changes may not suit everyone.

An employer who imposes a contractual change without its employees’ agreement will breach the contract, and the contract's original terms will remain in place. A breach of contract may ultimately lead to an employee considering themselves to have been constructively dismissed.

Here to help

If your business is considering changing working patterns and you require further information and assistance on how this can be implemented, you can reach our Employment Team below.

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