The premise of a four-day week probably sounds like a dream to most hard-working employees, as well as a relatively easy thing for their employers to introduce. Businesses can simply adapt their working hours to give their employees an extra day off, often on Fridays. And at a time when companies are increasingly concerned with their employee’s wellbeing, as well as talent retention, a four-day week seems like a straightforward solution to contemporary issues such as employee burn-out and dissatisfaction.
In a documentary created by The Drum, the publication's chief executive officer, Diane Young speaks to Johnny Tooze, the chief executive officer of Lab about the recent trend of companies adopting a four-day working week. Tooze himself implemented a four-day week at Lab and believes that it is the way forward for both companies and employees.
Under the scheme, employees have a better work-life balance and are therefore more productive during the days they are at work. At least, that’s the logic. However, as far as Young is concerned the notion is more complicated and frankly, less ideal than it might first appear.
“When I first heard about [the four-day week] I thought it was just a pretty wacky idea,” she said. “It just doesn’t conform to the way that most companies work and I wondered how you can implement it within an industry or sector in a way that won’t leave you out of sync with everyone else and the way they work.”
Young also emphasised that while the idea of a four-day week might work wonders for office morale agency-side, she remains unconvinced of its benefits when it comes to the client.
“If a client wants something on a Friday and nobody's there then you have to wonder what impact that has on the agency/client relationship.”
"I put myself in the shoes of a customer and I think the world is going the other way. We all want chat bots on websites and to get help whenever we want to. We want call-centers available 24 hours a day. As a customer, you expect to be able to contact your suppliers anytime you want.”
Yet Young conceded that this level of being ‘switched on’ isn’t always a good thing. “The modern world is so fast-paced, so full. Everyone’s always got their phone in their hand and everyone’s always going somewhere. I understand the idea that it would be nice if everyone just had a bit more time for themselves to do something they wanted to do.”
As such, she emphasised that she was impressed by the way employees at Lab have optimised their extra time. Young said, “I asked if there are people who just go home and lie in bed and watch Netflix all day because, for me, if that’s what an extra day was used for then that would be a bit sad. But, if you’re going to do something interesting to educate yourself, to have a new experience, or do a bit of good in the world then that’s a very positive thing in favour of the four-day week. I got the impression from the people at Lab that was the case for them.”
However, alongside her skepticism about the potential ways the four-day week impacts businesses, Young also feels that it is not a working pattern that is effective for every employee. Especially in cases such as Lab, where employees work longer hours to compensate for the extra day off. “They work from eight in the morning till six at night, four days a week and for me that just wouldn’t work because that’s when I see my children.”
Therefore, Young believes that companies need to think more broadly about how they prioritise their employee’s mental health and wellbeing. “For instance,” she said, “maybe somebody just needs four hours a week of a remote personal assistant … to help them with basic but time-consuming tasks. That could transform how somebody then feels about their work.”
“As opposed to re-arranging the whole working week of the whole company, I think companies need to be able to do individual things for individual people that help them to deal better with their workload.”
Watch The Drum's Four Day Week mini-documentary, in full, above.