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University expert on why a four-day working week is good (and bad)

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Published on 20 June 2022

four day working week
four day working week

All eyes are focused on a pilot scheme for a shorter working week in the UK. 

But just how realistic a proposition is a four-day working week? And with more flexible hours already becoming the norm due to the pandemic, is there even a need for it? 

Campaigners claim shorter hours boost productivity, cuts carbon emissions and improves family life – all without cutting pay. 

Sounds perfect. 

But as Professor Lawrence Bellamy, from the University of Sunderland, explains there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring a three-day weekend for everyone. 

Professor Bellamy, Academic Dean, Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism at the University, said: “A number of organisations have already initiated four-day a week contracts with their staff, supported by the same hours over fewer days and where this meets the business model.  

“However, practice has also been initiated and supported further by the pandemic and the need to look at cover, capacity and different approaches to roles.  

“There are many good reasons to allow contracts to move to four days. It reduces the strain and cost of the commute and in turn is beneficial for reasons of sustainability. It may be more family friendly, with caring responsibilities easier to cover and productivity could actually improve, with people putting in four long strong days rather than four with a tired fifth. 

“It could also cut costs for the organisation with reduced space requirements, energy requirements and even sick pay. Would people be ill as much if they worked fewer days and had more recharge time?” 

But if it sounds like the notion of Friday as the ‘new Saturday’ is too good to be true, then it quite possibly is, as Professor Bellamy goes on to explain. 

“Operational requirements vary by sector and employee cover is dictated by production and service requirements. For some organisations therefore it’s simply not possible.  

“Will colleagues be able to work a longer day in environments which are consistently physically and mentally challenging? Are flexitime and flexible working schemes a better solution; a late start for the school run, for example and increased cover in peak periods?” 

In an economy where we are currently seeing high vacancy levels, the appeal of a four-day week could well be what is needed. 

Whatever the outcome, no one can deny that a four-day working week – which equates to an entire year of extra free time every five years – is certainly appealing.