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Is a four-day work week the key to unlocking your recruitment drive?

By Jill Donabie, partner at Muckle.

Years of campaigning from groups such as ‘4 Day Week Global’ and steps taken by certain nations to promote the concept of a four-day working week have turned the idea of recurrent four-day working from a pipedream of few to a growing expectation of modern-day applicants.

In 2022, ‘4 Day Week Global’ organised a trial of a four-day working week involving 61 companies and, in June 2023, launched its Four Day Week Mini Manifesto, which may feature in the run-up to the next general election.

In February 2024, Autonomy published a follow-up report looking at the UK firms that took part in the world’s biggest four-day week trial in 2022.

The report found that:

  • 89% of businesses have continued with the policy
  • 51% of businesses have made the policy permanent
  • All managers and CEOs described the policy as having a “positive” or “very positive” impact on their organisation
  • 82% reported a positive impact on wellbeing
  • Work-life balance increased from 3.87 out of 5 immediately after the trial to 3.97 a year later.

Incentives

The four-day working week is certainly a popular policy amongst employees, with the report finding that 58% of the public expects the four-day week to be the standard way of working by 2030.

Offering a four-day week would, therefore, be a powerful recruitment tool to attract and retain the best talent. This popularity stems from the desire for an improved work-life balance, reduction in stress levels and possibly even boosted productivity, given the extra time to rest throughout the week. The report stated that 46% of organisations reported a positive change to ways of working and productivity, leading to maintained or increased overall performance. Benefits of the shorter working week included increased efficiency, productivity and focus at work, greater satisfaction and less procrastination, reduced staff turnover and improved recruitment. Improved organisational efficiency, through smarter ways of working and reduced meetings, was also reported.

Triallists in other studies also boasted of lower running costs given the drop in energy usage and office maintenance.

Pitfalls

Despite the positives, a successful four-day working week may be difficult to implement in practice and will not suit every charity. The report noted that organisations with conditional policies, which required targets to be met to receive a day off, had less success due to increased stress caused by the targets, resentment and a lack of predictability, meaning difficulties for staff to plan their time off, which often included childcare and caring responsibilities.

In October 2023, the government issued non-statutory guidance that stated it does not support a four-day week in local authorities (in which staff would reduce their working hours by 20% but retain 100% of their pay) due to concerns over providing taxpayers value for money. There may be similar issues for charitable organisations to consider whether a four-day week is in the best interests of furthering their charitable purposes and supporting their service users.

Practically speaking, one way of approaching it would require shutting down the office one day a week to give all workers the same rest day. This is simple to arrange, although it may be an unpopular idea with service users who may require a consistent service. Secondly, the shortened week may bring with it a stretched workforce juggling the same workload with a reduced number of hours. 

The second approach, likely to better maintain your services, is to devise a suitable rota whereby employees take different days off on a rotation basis – expect Mondays and Fridays to be popular!

A possible solution to this would be to offer a ‘nine-day fortnight’ rather than a four-day week, whereby employees can take one day off every fortnight, which has a lesser impact on service levels and continuity but may still set your charity apart as an attractive workplace. 

Other options

Whilst a four-day week is typically popular amongst candidates, other benefits are routinely high on the wish list for job seekers. These include other types of flexibility such as working from home and variable hours. Other often cited perks include enhanced annual leave and a positive working culture.

Another related approach would be to offer part-time/flexible working for employees. Practically, it will be easier and potentially more financially viable to implement part-time working for select employees compared to a four-day week for all employees. Part-time working arrangements can follow from an employee making a flexible working request, which is to become a ‘day 1’ right for UK employees from 6 April 2024. From 6 April onwards, employees will be entitled to make two requests (instead of one) in any 12-month period and employers will have to respond, in a reasonable manner, to a request within two months (reduced from three months). A request must be and can only be rejected for eight specific reasons set out in legislation. 

There are specific considerations for employers when dealing with part-time employees, including specific contractual provisions, various protections from less favourable treatment and annual leave adjustments. A four-day working week on full pay should be introduced with caution where there are employees already working a part-time schedule on part-time pay as unless you adjust the pay level of the existing part-time workers, there could be unequal treatment throughout the workforce. If you are thinking about introducing a four-day week or have any other employment law queries, please contact Jill Donabie using jill.donabie@muckle-llp.com

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