65% of UK businesses surveyed are now implementing a four-day working week for some, or all, of their employees, compared to 50% who responded to a survey in 2019.
COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and the shift to remote working have significantly changed attitudes towards organisations' attitudes toward shorter working weeks, a study by Henley Business School reveals.
According to a new report titled “The four-day week: The pandemic and the evolution of flexible work”, working fewer days benefits both organisations and employees, including improving quality of work (64%), attracting and retaining talent (68%), and lowering stress levels (78%).
Businesses that have implemented a four-day week are already reaping significant financial benefits, with those polled claiming to have saved an estimated £104 billion, or roughly 2.2% of the UK's annual turnover, the study finds.
According to the study, the most appealing flexible working options for employees were working fewer days for the same pay while having the ability to choose which day they took off, with 69% stating that working fewer days for the same pay while having the ability to choose which day they took off was the most appealing option. Surprisingly, 61% said they would choose to take Fridays off as well.
The pandemic has also improved attitudes toward working from home, with 51% of workers supporting a shift to home-working, up from 43% in 2019. The study found a general dislike for commuting among employees' reasons for wanting to work from home, with 62% citing this as a key reason to choose flexible working, and 27% of employees polled even saying they would be willing to take a pay cut to work from home.
Flexible working arrangements, according to Dr Rita Fontinha, Associate Professor in Strategic Human Resource Management, are proving to be an important recruitment and retention tool for many organisations.
The research also sheds light on what workers would do with their extra day off, with 68% of employees believing that their personal life would improve as a result of a change in work practices.
Of those surveyed, 67% and 66% said they would prioritise spending time with friends and family respectively.
More than half of respondents said they would like to take up a new hobby (51%), do more shopping (58%), and spend more time eating out at restaurants (48%), bringing a much-needed boost to the high street.
Volunteering also featured highly on many people’s wish-list, with 36% saying they would like to take up more charity work in their free time.
The study also found that employers’ concerns about introducing a four-day week had significantly diminished during the pandemic. In 2019, 82% of firms who were not offering a four-day week to employees were worried that any productivity gains would be outweighed by a rise in staffing costs, however, according to the latest report, only 65% held this view in 2021.
Employees were nervous about how working fewer hours would be seen by their colleagues, with 45% stating that they would be put off moving to a four-day week if they were perceived as lazy, and 35% would be concerned about handing over their work to colleagues.