Will the new government love the four-day week?

Campaigners for the shortened work week are amping up efforts in hope of appealing to the new Prime Minister.

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Four-day week campaigners are hoping more firms will adopt policy this year, as they seek to encourage the new Labour government to move away from the traditional nine-to-five.

The 4 Day Week Campaign has today exclusively revealed to The Guardian that it will run a new pilot this November, in an effort to capitalise on momentum from the change in leadership. A successful test run with 64 companies was previously completed in 2022.

Demand for the shortened workweek — where employees work 80% of their hours for the same pay — has exploded in the UK as flexible work practices become more common.

However, critics say the policy leads to a drop in output. Last year, the now ex-Tory minister for Housing, Lee Rowley wrote to one council trialling the shortened workweek to argue that “paying employees for an extra day of work that is not carried out [is not] value for money”.

Everything Labour has said about the four-day week

Labour has historically championed progressive work policies that are now seen as basic employee rights. These include the Minimum Wage and the 28-days holiday entitlement.

It has also been a supporter of the four-day week. As recently as 2019, the party’s then-shadow chancellor, John McDonnell said Labour would “reduce the average full-time working week to 32 hours by 2029.”

The new leader Keir Starmer has been less vocal about supporting a shortened workweek, however. Critics such as Rowley have argued that the policy could worsen the UK’s poor productivity levels; something the Labour party set out to improve in its campaign manifesto.

During the general election campaign, Labour deflected union calls to advocate for a four-day week, with one senior official telling The Telegraph, “there are no plans to do it”.

Starmer did argue for greater work-life balance for workers when he said he would try to “carve out protected time” to spend with his family if elected. Last year, Startups found this is the main reason why UK workers are in favour of a four-day week.

However, this statement prompted Conservative MPs to accuse the now-prime minister of planning a “part-time” leadership.

Rayner: four-day week “boosts productivity”

Support for a four-day week might be more evident in the government’s wider cabinet. Encouragingly for the 4 Day Week Campaign, deputy prime minister Angela Rayner has previously urged businesses to look at introducing the policy to their workplaces.

Following the successful 2022 pilot, after which 54 out of 61 firms said they would fully adopt the policy, Rayner reportedly told a room of 300 company leaders ““if you haven’t already looked at [the trial], please do”.

She added: “I actually think that it’s really important that there were trials that were done on the four-day working week and I think people will cotton onto the fact that it’s really good if it works for their sector and boosts productivity.”

Meanwhile, energy secretary, Ed Miliband separately acknowleged the productivity benefits of the four-day week in his podcast Reasons To Be Cheerful. According to The Guardian, the new business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds has expressed interest in the idea.

Firms to be given more flexibility

Perhaps in an effort to stave off criticism of the four-day week, The Guardian reports that the 4 Day Week Campaign’s upcoming November trial will enable firms to explore other flexible working arrangements beyond just the shortened workweek.

Having multiple options may also help to address industry-specific issues that arose during another large-scale UK four-day workweek pilot, run by 4 Day Week Global.

During this test run, some customer-facing teams found they had to hire workers to ensure their helpdesk remained open five days a week. Other firms extended the trial out of fears that productivity improvements from a four-day week could be a short-term blip.

Companies will be given support and advice to roll out other policies such as:

  • Flexible start and finish times
  • A nine-day fortnight
  • Compressed hours

Compressed hours are commonly confused with the shortened workweek. In a compressed week, staff work 100% of their contracted hours over four days, instead of 80%.

This is likely to result in burnout, as Asda discovered. The grocer ended its compressed hours trial this week after managers said they were left “tired” from working 11-hour shifts.

Labour balancing act

Whether or not Labour will choose to embrace the four-day week is uncertain. Demand for flexible working patterns is up among workers. However, a remote work pushback has begun as some large companies force workers back to the office.

Still, with the Flexible Working Bill having made it a legal right to request flexible work from day one of employment, a legal precedent in favour of flexible working has already been set.

The government will likely be looking for strengthened evidence that the four-day week can work for businesses as well as employees, to calm company fears and silence critics. This is something that the 4 Day Week Campaign’s is hoping its next pilot will be able to provide.

Joe Ryle, 4 Day Week Campaign director, said: “With a new Labour government, change is in the air and we hope to see employers embracing this change by signing up to our pilot.”

Interested in trialling a four-day week? Sign up to the 4 Day Week Campaign’s six-month pilot project here. The pilot will start on November 4.

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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