Why the four-day working week is here to stay

Boris wants everyone to return to the office – there are just too many cheese and coffee distractions at home, apparently.

Some say it’s got nothing to do with pleasing the property tycoons on the Tory donor list, that actually it’s a powerful appeal to the traditional values held so dear by an ever-growing population of ageing voters.

But to those same people, surely a four-day week must be equally abhorrent? Judgements of being ‘work shy’ aside, it must conjure up memories of broken Britain, miners strikes and mass unemployment.

So why does Boris seem to be supporting the move by commissioning a four-day week trial, involving more than 3,000 workers from 70 companies? Maybe, it’s because he already believes that the UK’s transition to a four-day working week is inevitable.

How so, Dave?

Perhaps it’s because he knows that the robot revolution is coming – even if, at times, it feels as though everyone else has forgotten.

The robots are coming

Research suggests that, by the mid-2030s, 30% of jobs will be at potential risk of automation, with robotics and AI impacting the jobs landscape significantly. It’s not just the manufacturing sector that will be heavily impacted. Transport, construction, maintenance, office and administration work are all vulnerable to impending automation.

So, how’s this switchover going to work then? With the unfortunate emerging from their final working week, tired yet satisfied with a job well done, just to high-five their robot replacement on their way out?

For the British, work remains a big part of our identities – but the 20th century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st century businesses or employees. Many Brits are exhausted and stressed, with recent research revealing that more than 10 million workers in the UK have called in sick as a result of feeling burnt out, costing UK business an estimated £700m a year.

There needs to be a phased adjustment to our working lives to avoid a mass mental health meltdown – and what better way to start than by adopting a four-day week?

More and more bosses are recognising that workers have emerged from the pandemic with different expectations around what constitutes a healthy work-life balance and, as a consequence, are embracing a new model of work which focuses on quality of outputs, not quantity of hours.

But not all. Some of the CEOs of the UK’s largest businesses are warning against such a move, pointing to their decades of experience running complex organisations. And it’s tempting, of course, to defer to their ‘expert’ opinion. But let’s not forget that, for all the positive PR the business sector receives for innovation, it’s also obsessed with predictability and often terrified of major change.

Music lessons

We all remember the music industry twenty years ago, pumping millions into anti-piracy measures and taking teenagers to court for downloading Metallica from their bedrooms. It didn’t take a genius to work out that consumption habits were transforming in line with big technological developments and any resistance was futile. To the established players in the music industry, this new world was completely alien and their existing operations weren’t geared up to exploit it. Therefore, they opposed it. Is any of this sounding familiar at all?

We’re on the brink of one of the biggest upheavals to our working practices in over 100 years. Harping back to ‘the good ol’ days’ isn’t going to do anyone any favours. And let’s stop framing a reduced working week as new and therefore somehow potentially dangerous. We are already behind the curve. Sweden’s average working week is 29 hours and has been since 2010 – and Swedes are, famously, very happy too. 

Many business leaders misunderstand the debate. The four-day working week isn’t something you can fight against. Technology is already in the driving seat. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the music industry and put all your efforts into defending a dying concept. Instead, accept the reality of the very near future and focus your efforts on building towards it.

Interested in hearing more about how we can solve your challenges? We’d love to hear from you.

David Clark

Operations Director


David Clark