Four considerations for a four-day work week

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The participants in the trial vary in industry and range from charities to banks to local chippies. The trial is based on the 100:80:100 model, being 100% pay for 80% of working time in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity.

In the wake of COVID-19, companies have begun to recognise that quality of life is a key driver in competition, prompting the urge for a new workplace structural dynamic. Researchers from Oxford University, Cambridge University and Boston College will work with the participating companies to measure the impact of the trial based on business productivity, worker wellbeing, environmental impact and gender equality.

If you’re looking to adopt the four-day work week, here are four things to consider.

1. Increased Vacancy Fulfillment

Atom, an online bank based in Durham, switched to a four-day week in November. They have stated that their customer services and usual ways of operating have not been impacted by the switch and they saw a 500% increase in job applications.

The UK is facing huge labour shortages across all sectors since we left the EU and for the industries suffering most, the attraction of the four-day week could become a ticket to competition for employment. Although this attraction may help curb labour shortages, employers should be mindful of the costs impact.

The idea behind the trial is that employers would not need more staff to maintain their output, but this may not be practical for all industries. Some employers may need to consider whether they would need to increase their workforce and therefore their costs output, to ensure demand continues to be met.

2. Changes to contracts

Switching to a four-day working week will involve contractual changes for the workforce. Employment contracts are binding on each party and cannot be amended unilaterally by the employer alone. The simplest way to amend a contract will be by agreement between the employer and each employee. Employers will need to consider whether they should implement new contracts or seek to agree any amendments with signed letters by their employees. Although it is unlikely that an employee would disagree with the amendment, employers should be mindful that this situation could arise.

3. Part-time employees

Employers will need to take extra care when deciding what a shift to a four-day week means for part time employees. It is vital that employers ensure that their treatment of parttime employees is no less favourable than that of full-time employees. For example, employers could offer part-time workers a 20% pro-rata deduction in hours, in line with the 20% reduction for 100% to 80% working hours that would be offered to full-time employees. Employers are advised to seek advice before making any such calculations themselves.

4. Normal working hours

Employers should be cautious not to allow the reduction in working days to lead to longer working hours on the days staff are in work. Standard contractual hours should not be altered as this would detract from the notion of 80% hours for 100% pay.

Employers should also remain mindful of their overtime policy. For example, if overtime is awarded based on the number of hours worked per week, policies will need to be amended. For the avoidance of doubt, it would not be best practice to incentivise overtime in light of implementing the four-day week as this goes against the ethos of the change.

The four-day working week is designed to benefit employees, aimed at reducing the risk of burnout and improving quality of life. Although the idea is that business output won’t be affected, employers should be mindful of the risks to their particular model.

If you’re thinking of implementing the four-day working week at your organisation, please get in touch at r.mahon@capitallaw.co.uk for bespoke guidance.