The 4-day Work Week – Possible or Inevitable?

In 1965, Richard Nixon gave a speech in which he “foresaw” in “the ‘not too distant future, a four-day work week and a fuller family life for every American through continuation of the Administration’s economic policies.” Almost 70 years on and we are yet to see this reality become adopted across the pond and around the world, however could things be about to change?

The pandemic has forced us to reevaluate almost every aspect of our lives, perhaps with the starkest being our attitude to work/life balance. With working from home becoming a staple of our everyday for office workers, a shift in focus from both companies and staff in how we perceive productivity versus hours in the office has been profound and there is no going back.

It would seem the pandemic has accelerated calls and initiatives not only for greater flexibility with hybrid/remote working but now also for a 4-day working week. Trials are scheduled to be conducted in the UK from June to December this year, backed by Oxbridge Universities, non-profits and a huge variety of different companies signing up to take part to ask employees to deliver 100% output, but in 80% of the time. Thought to be the largest trial of its kind in the world, the results could prove to be decisive in speeding up wheels already in motion which are currently slowly but surely moving towards making the 4-day working week a reality for some companies.

The real question though is whether this is a trend that will be broadly accepted by the working world in the next few years, or is it doomed to be adopted only by the quirky founders of hip and trendy social impact startups?

The Catalyst Team at Sussex Innovation are certainly optimistic that the 4-day work week will be the norm by the decade end, perhaps even much earlier. Companies of all sizes are starting to see the benefits of the 4-day working week for multiple reasons, whether it be staff retention, minimising employee burnout or cutting costs, there are a plethora of reasons to be excited about the realities of a bank holiday weekend, every weekend.

There are not only the immediate benefits of the 4-day week for companies and employees in terms of improving focus, output and productivity but also the knock-on impacts of limiting travel as a solution to the climate crisis. According to a study carried out by environmental and social justice collective Platform London, moving to a four-day week by 2025 would shrink the UK's emissions by 127m tonnes, a reduction of more than 20%.

Whether it be 2025 however or more towards the end of the decade, it would seem that if trends continue that the reality of the 4 day working week is not just a possibility but only a matter of time before we start to wonder how the 5 day week was accepted as standard. And who knows, with other developments and innovations such as AI, maybe we can push for the 4-day weekend like some kind of dystopian utopia where robots provide for abundance? Better leave that one to Elon Musk and co.

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