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The four-day work week: What could it look like in practice for HR?

A new debate around a shorter working week has been sparked following Nicola Sturgeon’s promise of an SNP government funding to help companies in Scotland trial a four-day work week.

The four-day work week – HR considerations

Discussions around supporting employees to achieve a better work-life balance have been intensified following the pandemic, with recent ONS figures showing many remote workers are working longer hours, and often unpaid.

The four-day work week has already been trialled by many companies throughout Covid-19, including supermarket chain Morrisons, which announced its plans last summer to move to a four-day week at its headquarters in Bradford. Perpetual Guardian, the New Zealand financial services company, also switched its 240 staff to a four-day week whilst maintaining pay in 2018. The company reported productivity levels remained the same, whilst workers’ stress levels decreased and satisfaction with work-life balance increased to 78 per cent.

Those in favour of shorter working weeks report increased productivity, lower stress among employees and fewer sick days – and the move is popular with the British workforce. When polled by YouGov about the reduced work week, 74 per cent of UK employees backed the policy.

Though debates have been driven from the need for improved work-life balance, for the HR department the four-day work week could provide better support for employees – providing more time for employees to learn and upskill and offer greater flexible options for working parents and guardians.

However, the challenge for many would be to ensure employees stay productive and profitable whilst working less than 37 hours a week. To facilitate a trial, it would be essential to update policies and procedures, ensuring a clause is in place in employee contracts in case of an emergency outside of normal working hours. Companies could also take advantage of the growing number of new HR digital workplace tools to support flexible, remote working and employee wellbeing spurred on by the pandemic including virtual clocking in and out systems to monitor hours worked, flexdesk style hotdesking widgets to help manage flexible working patterns against reduced office space, and quarterly performance tracking to monitor productivity levels.

With Spain recently announcing a national trial of the four-day work week to combat the coronavirus crisis, it will be interesting to see what the results are on this scale, and if Scotland choose to follow suit.

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