Would you work a four-day week? Your staff might already be doing it

Almost two thirds of UK workers are taking on a lighter workload at the beginning or end of the week to combat burnout, as part of the latest TikTok work trend.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Employers who are sceptical about the four-day week will be surprised to learn that their employees could be doing it in secret already.

money.co.uk, a financial comparison website, surveyed 2,000 UK employees to examine the different generational attitudes to work and burnout coping mechanisms. The results show that 64% of employees are reducing their own hours to combat stress.

According to the findings, 63% of workers engage in ‘Bare Minimum Mondays’, (purposefully doing the least amount of work expected to ease themselves into the week). 65% admit to skipping out early on a Friday.

Startups recently found that 78% of UK employees want a four-day week. Of those who are strongly in favour, 59% view the policy as a strategy to reduce stress and burnout.

Combined with the money.co.uk research, our findings indicate that, as companies hesitate on implementing a shorter work week, staff are cutting their own hours to protect their mental health.

Is the desire for a four-day week impacting productivity?

The money.co.uk data also shows the most popular anti-work trend amongst workers is ‘Freedom Friday’, where over two thirds (65%) of all workers take on a lighter workload to finish the week earlier.

The data indicates that Freedom Fridays, which has taken the social media app TikTok by storm, are most popular with millennials. Almost three quarters (72%) say they are regularly finishing up early at the end of the week.

It could be that the growing recognition around the success of a four-day week – 7 in 10 employees intend to ask their employer to embrace the perk – is what’s causing workers to down tools.

However, that employees are choosing to put less effort in during their shifts does not necessarily mean they are less productive. In fact, of the companies with a four-day week in 2023, many have chosen to adopt the practice as a way to improve their efficiency.

Indeed, the results of the UK’s largest four-day week trial, unveiled earlier this year, show that 57% of the companies which took part in the trial chose to offer their employees either Monday or Friday off work.

This suggests the policy helped to make up for hours lost due to those days of the week that are traditionally less productive.

‘Quiet quitting’ trend rages on amongst UK employees

Last year, ‘Quiet Quitting’ entered the mainstream as a work term. In response to the rising cost of living, and a fall in real wages, the practice began to become popular amongst stressed out workers.

As opposed to outright quitting their job, the phrase refers to only completing one’s minimum work requirements – quitting going above and beyond or bringing work home after hours.

money.co.uk’s data reveals that Quiet Quitting remains fashionable amongst staff. On average, more than half (54%) currently engage with the trend.

Breaking the data down by age group, money.co.uk found that younger people are most likely to admit to quiet quitting. Just over 3 in 5 employees surveyed aged 25-34 said they currently partake in the practice.

This aligns with the findings from our recent four-day week survey, completed in collaboration with YouGov. We found that the perk is most attractive to younger employees, with 58% of Gen Zers saying they would seek new employment for it.

But even amongst over 55’s, the group who are least likely to ‘quiet quit’, two in five (42%) admit to pressing pause on their career ambitions.

Rise in staff burnout spells trouble for small businesses

While the self-made four-day week model doesn’t necessarily lead to a drop in output, it does raise a red flag for firms in terms of staff motivations for ‘slacking off’.

An organisational culture where staff are actively seeking ways to limit their productivity can only be described as negative. Rather than laziness, it is likely reflective of the growing mental health crisis that is threatening employee wellbeing.

In a survey of over 1,000 UK employees and HR managers, Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform, found that four in five workers say workplace burnout has had an impact on their health and wellbeing.

Such anxieties will make workers more likely to avoid finishing tasks as a way to protect their mental health. The money.co.uk research shows that 63% of employees experience the ‘Sunday Scaries’; a feeling of dread at the end of the weekend.

This is not just a humanitarian concern. It also has real ramifications for the business. Government figures estimate that sickness absence and lost productivity through worklessness contribute towards an estimated £100bn annual cost to businesses.

This figure is only expected to increase as more workers report feeling fatigued and overburdened by their workload.

Last month, official labour figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that a rise in stress and burnout has led to a record number of employees out of work due to poor health.

How to keep employees healthy, happy and motivated

Work environments that reward and recognise staff efforts – and ensure employees are given a manageable weekly workload – will nurture a safer and happier workforce. This will improve employee engagement and productivity, as well as team morale and performance.

According to research by Reward Gateway, 72% of UK staff believe their workplace wellbeing would improve if they were simply thanked for their hard work.

James Andrews, money.co.uk business loans expert, said: “Focusing on perks known to be beneficial to mental health, like exercise and eating well, can be cost-effective for business owners to drive motivation and productivity, at the same time as reducing absenteeism.

“As such, subsidised gym classes and memberships, offering a free healthy breakfast in the office and virtual mental health counselling could end up boosting your bottom line as well as proving popular with staff.”

More on this: our guide to the top employee benefits and perks in 2023 has 50+ ideas for support measures to reduce stress in your workforce.

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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