How many times, particularly after a Bank Holiday, do you hear the immortal words, “Oh I wish we had a three-day weekend every week” muttered?  Well the reality of that dream may be closer than we ever thought possible.  In fact, a financial services company in New Zealand recently tested a ‘Four Day’ week experiment with outstanding results! Out of the 240 staff who took part in the trial, 78% felt they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance; that’s an increase of 24 percentage points from before the trial (November 2017) and after (April 2018).

Whether or not this is deemed a success, at a 78% reported positive result, is it not time we reviewed the standard 5-day working week model that's been in place for over a century?  We live in a world of flexible working, with more and more of us working outside of the standard working environment; we work more globally than ever before and especially for those based in Europe, we can manage clients or customers based in all time zones effectively within our own waking hours.

There is now so much research available supporting flexible working - from increased productivity levels, lower overheads and better physical and mental health - that it is difficult to ignore the trend towards less rigid and formal working arrangements. 

As it has been fairly well documented for a while now, there is a direct correlation between the number of working hours per day and productivity (initially, surprising people by proving that the shorter the hours, the more productive people are); it also improves morale and wellbeing as the elusive 'work-life balance' finally seems less fictional.  When employees have more time to rest, their mental health improves; stress reduces; creativity and problem-solving increases and general wellbeing is better. 

This has been backed by the medical profession including public health director Prof John Ashton who called for the introduction of a four-day working week to help alleviate issues like stress, sleep problems, and reduced absenteeism through sickness.

One drawback to the definitive four-day week is that most salaries would naturally be pro-rated (although this wasn’t the case during the New Zealand experiment).  It also brings in questions regarding flexibility of an 'extra' day off - is it a Friday for your company but a Monday for your partners'?  Does it make childcare more complicated?  Does it make it even more complex for part-time workers?  How does it work for businesses that could not reasonably function with one less working day each week – e.g. factories, shops?

There are, however, alternative options available that still has the same result.  For example, each worker could work four days a week, but not necessarily the same four days so the overall productivity of the company is not put at risk.  What needs to be implemented more than anything else, is flexibility - something that five days on/two days off has been distinctly lacking.

Outsourcing can also alleviate some of the problems that changing the working week structure may bring.  For example, your admin function could have continuous cover or back-up every day by outsourcing this function to a safe pair of hands outside of your company.

What doesn't need to happen is for a business to stop for three days a week - the days can be worked in rotation within a team, so the responsibility and tasks can still be covered, and in a more effective, productive way.

As with most things, it is only likely to be adopted by many organisations if the benefits are compelling.  Offices converting their 100% desk to employee ratio to hot-desking can save real estate costs by reducing overall office space; those that pay or at least contribute to employee travel, can also look to save 20% by reducing the working week by one day, thereby dramatically reducing absenteeism and sick-leave, and reducing associated costs.

It is encouraging that both workers’ happiness and mental health are being addressed and it is now widely acknowledged that increased productivity and financial and environmental benefits are undeniable rewards for businesses who embrace flexible working. 

For more on this or to find out how we can further support your business contact us

SmartPA Partner Charlotte Frank

Charlotte had supported executives in London as a Personal Assistant for 17 years prior to moving into project management within a global investment bank. Charlotte's key skills lie in core administrative duties as well as event management, project management, research, data analysis and the creation of presentations.