Asda’s four-day week trial was doomed to fail

Asda has scrapped its trial of a shortened work week after staff complained they were having to work extra hours.

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Helena Young
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In what’s being billed as evidence that the four-day week does not work, Asda has scrapped its four-day week policy after staff complained they felt exhausted at the end of a shift.

The grocery chain launched the employee benefit last year. Under the rules, managers were allowed to work 44 hours over the course of four days for the same pay. Poor feedback has seen it roll back the perk, however, as staff complained about having to work 11-hour shifts.

Asda has made the announcement on the same day that the results from the largest public sector trial of the four-day week in Britain were released. The findings were overwhelmingly positive, showing that staff turnover fell and productivity increased.

So what went wrong for the retail giant and its workforce? Is this really a failure of the four-day week, or a lesson in how not to implement a four-day week policy?

Asda staff left tired by four-day week

Demand for the four-day week has been surging in the UK. In a Startups survey, conducted at the end of 2023, 12% of organisations told us they plan to adopt the perk this year.

Asda was one of the largest businesses to adopt a four-day week when it did so in January. It said it would trial the benefit in a bid to quell worker revolts.

Asda team members have now reportedly described the scheme as too “physically demanding”, saying it left them worn out on their extra day off. Working longer shifts also required them to start early and finish later, creating stress for those who commute to work.

Asda has now abandoned the pilot along with a planned trial of a nine-day fortnight following the feedback from employees.

Asda: never cutting hours?

The fault in Asda’s four-day week test run might not lie with the idea itself. Instead, the issue could be simply a lack of understanding about how the policy actually works.

Crucially, a properly implemented four-day week should result in staff working fewer hours (usually 32 per week) for the same pay. This is how the 4-Day Week campaign group defines a Gold Standard four-day week accredited employer. 

Instead, Asda managers worked the same hours, just fewer days. This is more commonly known as flexi-time (where staff work the same hours but choose their own schedule).

Early adopters could be to blame for Asda’s confusion. Many firms which introduced a four-day week in 2023, such as Dunelm and Sainsbury’s, conflated the policy with flexi-time.

However, Asda’s findings show that flexi-time is more likely to result in a burned out workforce as staff are usually forced to work longer days without appropriate rest breaks.

In our survey of 530 UK employees which we carried out last year, we uncovered that a large proportion of the workforce also misunderstand what a four-day week should look like.

70% of employees told us they believed they would have to work at least one extra hour per week to compensate for time lost.

Asda employee benefits backfire

The supermarket will continue to run a separate work trial where teams work a shorter week (39 hours) for the same pay. Still, this will take place over five days instead of four.

Asda says this benefit has proved more popular with teams. Again, this suggests that the real issue with the retailer’s four-day week was that managers’ work hours did not drop.

When the four-day week is correctly implemented, it has resulted in far better outcomes. South Cambridgeshire district council said its four-day week trial, in which employees only worked 80% of their contracted hours, saw huge benefits. Performance improved in 11 out of 24 test areas, and worsened in just two.

Asda initially embraced the flexible working benefit after union members complained about ill treatment at the hands of management. They said this had resulted in a ‘toxic’ work culture.

The new policy was intended to alleviate stress for managers and improve morale. Yet Asda’s misapplication of the four-day week means it may have had the opposite effect.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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