What do four day work week trials tell us about future employee benefits?

A quick summary:

From headline to headline, the phrase “four day work week” seems to be everywhere. Whether it’s hype or denial, conversations on four day work week trials seem to have swept across Europe and the UK. 🌍

In the past couple of years, four day work week trials have exploded. Starting with Microsoft in Japan back in 2019, with sales rising 40% per employee compared to the year before. Fast-forward to 2022, and a whole list of countries are set to trial the four day work week. Some of which include Australia, Canada, Spain, the US, and of course the UK.

In the third quarter of last year, the Scottish government confirmed it also would be trialing a four day work week policy. The details of this included shorter hours and no loss of pay - with the scheme set to cost around £10 million. Previous to this news, 2021 saw countries such as New Zealand and Iceland also trial their own versions of reduced hours and with the same pay. 💰

All of this is evidence of changing times and the growing demand for better work-life balance. We might not quite be there just yet, but shorter working weeks would completely revolutionise the way we look at work as a society. 🙌

Now, let’s delve deeper into what a four day work week really means, how they work, and what they can tell us about the next decade for employee wellbeing/employee benefits. 🤔

How do four-day weeks work? 🗓

Firstly, let’s clear one thing up. The ‘four day work week’ and ‘compressed hours’ aren’t the same. Compressed hours suggest the same amount of time per week, but in four longer days; four day work week arrangements are fewer hours, same pay. What both working arrangements do share, however, is a three-day weekend.

Technically, these are both two different options for working four-day weeks, and as the concept is relatively new, companies are choosing one or the other. This confusion comes as no surprise - after all, the five-day working week has been part of life in Britain for more than a century. 

While this all sounds like great news, a four-day work week doesn't come without its fair share of pros and cons. Something we’ll explore later on.

A glimpse into the future for employee benefits 👀

Now we know what to expect with a four day work week, what can these trials tell us about the future for employee benefits?

Starting with work-life balance, employees have been increasingly vocal about the need for improvements in this department for many years. However, with many employees working from home throughout the pandemic, personal wellbeing, and mental and physical health have taken centre stage - and rightly so. 

Through hybrid and remote working models, employees have shown their unhappiness for permanently returning to the office. This level of pushback from the workforce has rarely been seen, and it’s just the starting point for much more to come. 

Before the pandemic, it was highly unlikely we would see nearly half of British workers, working from home at least some of the workweek. Now, almost 60% would prefer to work from home entirely or have the flexibility to choose. These improvements in work-life balance open up new discussions on shorter working weeks. Could these radical changes push society in the direction of four-day working weeks? Possibly so, and if not, they most certainly will start the ball rolling.

Attitudes and values of future generations 

These four day work weeks also give us an insight into the changing attitudes, generations, and values of society as a whole. The employee benefits that worked (or often didn’t) yesterday, are outdated and need modernising for the younger workforce. 💻

A workforce that seeks flexibility and purpose from an employer, while not being afraid to quit a job if they feel their needs haven’t been met. Even now, we’re seeing a rise in health-conscious workers who demand healthier employee benefits that go above-paid lunches or life insurance.

Unlike generations before, 92% of millennials say flexibility is a top priority when it comes to job searching. If this is anything to go by, this segment of the workforce and those to come after them share a different attitude towards work-life balance. One which may embrace shorter working weeks much more openly than older generations. 

However, it doesn’t end there. Even the preferences of an older workforce are shifting, with most over 50s wanting to gradually ease into retirement through reduced hours and flexible working arrangements. 

It seems like a new way of working is on the horizon with current employee benefits lacking to appeal to a younger workforce. With changing attitudes and values, this could be the start of four-day work weeks in the next couple of decades. 🚀

The end of burnout culture 🔥

As burnout culture reaches boiling point, a four day work week may be the employee benefits companies need. By introducing better work-life balance benefits such as shorter weeks, shorter days, while maintaining the same pay, collectively, society can steer away from burnout culture.

With the rise of technology and an “always-on” approach, burnout culture has become a widespread and serious issue - and one that leaders must react to if they wish to continue thriving in business. While wellbeing initiatives and better employee benefits have been adopted on a company-by-company basis, implementing a four day work week may be the solution to burnout culture.

Ultimately, burnout culture must end, and quickly. Sure, we’re a long way off from a four day work week across every industry, but these conversations could be the starting point for healthier, happier teams. 💚

Pros and Cons of a four day work week

Moving on, let’s explore the pros and cons of a four day work week. There is no doubt that employee benefits will improve with shorter weeks, but what’s the dark truth of this new way of working?

Pros ✅

Starting with the advantages of a four day work week on future employee benefits, this includes reduced costs, happier team members and so much more. This will give you a better understanding of what to expect when/if four-day weeks make it into your employee benefits package. 

Healthier, happier teams 😊

First and foremost, a four day work week means one thing - three-day weekends! This longer break from work gives people more time to focus on themselves and their loved ones. Whether it’s taking up new hobbies, relaxing, or seeing family, longer weekends are quite possibly the biggest advantage of a shorter week. 

That’s if you’re an employee. For employers, healthier, happier teams create healthier, happier businesses. You may see an increase in job satisfaction, productivity, and performance amongst team members. 

According to a New Zealand based financial services company, Perpetual Guardian, work-life balance increased from 54% to 78% when trialing a four day work week. This means employees were more able to manage their own time and work lives more efficiently than on a five-day workweek. 📊

Recruit and retain talented people 🤝

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talented people, there’s a lot to be said in this space at the moment. With “The Great Resignation” sweeping across the UK in every industry, it’s clear companies need to revamp their employee benefits if they are to compete for top talent. 

Implementing a four day work week would see many HR departments inundated with applications. Employees (especially of a younger generation as discussed above) want the flexibility that comes with new ways of working; they need to feel heard by employers. 

In the near future, companies will start eliminating burnout culture in exchange for wellbeing culture, and four day work weeks may be the only way to attract and retain people for forward-thinking companies. 🚀

Cutting costs for everyone and everything 💸

Finally, operating on a four day work week doesn’t just save on time, but also money. From general office overheads to employee commuting costs, everyone wins when it comes to four day work weeks. 

This benefit for both employers and employees means cutting back on spending and saving more for the future. Whether that’s to expand the business as an employer, or save for retirement as an employee, this simple benefit of shorter weeks can accumulate and go a long way over time. 📈

Cons ❌

Like anything, a four day work week does come with disadvantages, and while it’s perceived as a great employee benefit, here’s exactly what you need to know before considering this working arrangement. 

The likely reality for four day work weeks ⏳

Unfortunately, most businesses will fail to realise the difference between a four day work week and compressed hours. For this reason, the reality of this for many employees will be the same hours, but within four days. While this still means three-day weekends, it does create longer days at work, which could take its toll on the productivity and performance of team members.

Your team’s answer to better work-life balance 💚

By now, you may begin to realise just how important four day work weeks could be in the future when it comes to employee benefits. There appears to be great evidence in support of this radical change, and many reasons to consider it for both employees and employers.

We can’t be certain how far away four day work weeks are, but what we do know is that Heka continues to support better employee benefits that focus on wellbeing, self-care, and better mental and physical health. 🧠

Whether it’s life coaching, axe-throwing, therapy consultations, or nutritional advice, there’s something for every employee on Heka. Heka makes employee wellbeing super simple for leaders and business decision-makers. 

If you’d like to find out more about Heka, take a look around our website. Alternatively, you can discuss the benefits Heka has on your employees with our wellbeing experts by booking a demo. 📅

Download our return the office survey

As the world trials new ways of working, a lot of people continue to work remotely and on a hybrid basis - this is due in large to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, many employees have grown anxious about returning to the office, and a sudden change could impact employee wellbeing, morale and performance.

That's exactly why our return to the office survey offers leaders fifteen questions to ask your team about general health, happiness and other business related topics. What's more, there are five pages of insights on how to navigate the answers of your employees.

If you are looking to return to the office in the near future, do so in the most effective way possible with our return the office survey!