How Much of a Possibility Could the Four-Day Week Really Be?

office workers

by Maureen Lynch, Director of Hays Ireland

The Irish pilot of a four-day week, a trial that saw no loss in pay for employees working four days instead of five, concluded late last year. The majority of the companies that participated said they will continue with the arrangement, but does this really herald a change in attitudes and are we getting closer to the four-day week becoming a reality throughout the world of work?

Historically thought of as an all too radical adjustment that would be unlikely to ever become common practice, there can be no denying that the recent wave of press attention around the four-day week is signalling – if not a widespread change – then certainly a rethink of how practices might grow and evolve in the future. So in a bid to discover what people really think of the idea, we conducted a survey of almost 1,000 professionals and employers – the results of which are now in:

At a glance: key stats from the four-day week survey

  • 95% think the four-day week is a good idea
  • 59% think it would positively impact productivity
  • 73% would be tempted to move jobs if a four-day week was being offered
  • 52% think the four-day week will become a reality in the next five years

Majority think the four-day week is a good idea

Advocates of the four-day week cite better work-life balance, improved gender equity and a reduced carbon footprint as potential benefits of the change in working pattern, but where do people believe it could have the greatest impact?

Employee mental health and wellbeing is thought to benefit most, with 89% citing it as the area they thought would be most improved by a four-day working week. Perhaps surprisingly, well over half (59%) thought that productivity would benefit, whilst 48% thought it would positively impact talent attraction and retention.

Overall, the prospect of a four-day working week is regarded very positively – 95% think that it’s a good idea, and almost three quarters (74%) consider it a very good idea.

It’s increasingly a consideration, but uptake remains low

Though sentiment around the four-day week is mostly positive, the actual uptake remains low, with only 4% of employers currently implementing or trialling it. 17%, however, are considering introducing it, an increase on the proportion who said they were a year ago (11%). Whilst this is a possible indicator that the success of the recent trial is causing organisations to re-evaluate their working policies, well over half (62%) are not considering introducing a four-day week at all, and 17% are unable to due to their organisation/sector.

Of those who are not introducing it, 47% say this is because they are not prepared from an operational perspective, whilst 51% are concerned about the effect it will have on productivity.

“Although 52% believe the four-day week will become a reality in the next five years, only 4% of organisations have so far implemented it.”

Majority would be tempted by a four-day week

Professionals are increasingly receptive to the idea of a four-day week. Almost three-quarters (73%) would be tempted to move to a different organisation if it was offering a four-day working week, an increase on last year’s figure (64%). A further 55% would rather work a four-day week with all days spent in the workplace than a five-day week in a typical hybrid pattern.

Could there be benefits to society at large?

Though the overall picture is complicated and there are a number of factors at play, one of the arguments for the four-day working week is the potential impact that the reduced travel involved could have on our climate. Over a quarter (28%) of survey respondents acknowledge a reduced carbon footprint as a benefit of the four-day week.

A further 21% say they would spend their extra day volunteering if they worked a four-day week.

What lies ahead…

Whilst the uptake of the four-day week remains low, our data does show that people are becoming increasingly open to the possibility. Although 62% of employers said they were not considering implementing a four-day week, 36% said they would be more likely to if staff spent all four days in the workplace. Over half (52%) of all survey respondents believe it will become a workplace reality in the next five years.

Over four fifths (81%) of respondents believe that the four-day week will actually become a reality in the next ten years. Whether the world of work at large is getting closer to this model becoming common practice or not is debatable, but it’s certainly difficult to deny that the conversation around it is gaining momentum.