Should We Bring in a Four Day Week?

One of the main, and perhaps unexpected, impacts of the pandemic has been how we work, not necessarily the job we do, but the ways that we conduct our business and where. 

Social distancing forcing people to work from home allowed many of us to reflect on just how necessary the office is in modern life. This reflection is also joined by recent news such as the touting of Iceland’s ‘four day week’ trial, although this has been misleadingly reported by major news outlets as the trial was more about slightly reduced hours than taking off a whole day. Business and workers have been speaking about how these changes have been felt on the Isle of Man and if a four day week would work in Manx life.

Four Day Week

We reached out to the Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce to see if their members had any experience with a four day working model. One business owner said: ‘We’ve enabled four day weeks successfully for 50% of our workforce for over 10 years and are absolute advocates for this. Whilst initially this was driven by those with parental responsibilities alongside work responsibilities and ensuring valuable skills were not lost from our business, this has expanded to multi-generational care provision, personal choice and lifestyle preferences, supporting interests, health and travel. It enables us to retain key skills and experience vital to our business, whilst providing individuals the ability to attain the work/life blend they seek.’

Despite claims of a highly successful trial of a four day week in Iceland being overblown, other trials have been done to mostly positive results. Microsoft’s Japan division found a 40% increase year on year in sales per employee after giving their 2,300 employees every Friday off for a month in 2019 with no decrease in pay. That trial, which also saw meetings limited to just 30 minutes, led to a 23% decline in electricity usage and 59% decrease in paper printing; surveys afterward also found that 92% of workers were pleased with the results. 

Japan is not the only country to find success in the new way of working closer to home, there are more and more UK companies who are taking the step and finding a balance between giving employees a longer weekend and maintaining pay and productivity. President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Sir Cary Cooper, told inews: ‘We should drop down to a four-day week … The UK has the longest working hours compared to countries in the European Union, but we’re less productive than many of those places. We work extraordinarily long hours, plus lots of emails at night and at weekends, and it’s not efficient.’

Office vs Home

Despite the pandemic quickly allowing businesses to learn how to allow employees to work from home, some workers still prefer working in the office. A Gensler survey of UK office workers found that 21% would prefer to be in the office full time and 67% preferred a flexible hybrid model. However, a local business we asked about the issue said: ‘Although many offices are now set up so that staff can work remotely, it appears that the majority of staff have chosen to continue working from the office when given the choice.’

They added: ‘With businesses being forced to put their trust in their staff to continue to work with high levels of productivity when working from home, and staff being able to provide this, businesses have more confidence in their staff that when requesting alternate working arrangements that these can be facilitated without being detrimental to the underlying business and the staff member’s productivity. This should lead to businesses being open to less traditional patterns of working if staff can continue to show that the work continues to be done.’

Many workers with parental responsibilities have spoken about the benefits of being able to work from home more, another business owner told Gef that whilst it would unlikely be a solution for them in the long term, they can see the benefits for parents. They said: ‘It is likely to assist parents in being more flexible when it comes to difficulties, such as when children are unwell, as it will allow them to provide some cover during their time out of the office rather than being entirely absent for the period.’

Could the Island Make This Change?

Here in the Isle of Man, full-time employees work an average of 37.9 hours a week, including 1.2 hours overtime, as of 2019, which is slightly above the UK average of around 37.4 for the same time. A four day week, working nine to five, would equal 32 hours a week, well below the island’s average. With the gov constantly looking for ways to attract young families to the island to bolster our economy and the success of the companies mentioned in implementing the change, might it be time for more business owners to give this some serious thought?

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