The expectation of a five-day working week for office workers has been with us for over a century, but is the time now right for change? Following the shifts in flexible working seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent successful trial of a four-day working week in UK companies, are worker attitudes also moving with the times?
In this article
- 85% would choose to work under a 4-day week system
- 94% will only accept a 4-day week if their conditions stay the same
- 78% say they are dissatisfied at work
- Working from home is non-negotiable for 61% of participants who work remote/hybrid
- 83% of workers with strict working hours want flexible work hours
- Is the 4-day week and more working flexibility important to SME employees?
Flexible working practices and the four-day workweek are more adoptable than in previous decades thanks to tools such as time tracking software and collaboration software. Companies have the means to implement more flexible working schedules but do small to midsize enterprise (SME) employees see this as a priority?
We asked a sample of 1,047 UK SME workers, who primarily work using a computer and follow the more conventional model of working at least five days per week, for their thoughts on these new developments. From doing so, we wanted to understand more about employee preferences and whether the introduction of flexible working practices could improve staff retention.
Our full methodology can be found at the end of this article.
85% would choose to work under a 4-day week system
The four-day working week has been making headlines since a major trial kicked off in the UK in June 2022. This concluded in February 2023 and found that 92% of companies involved intended to continue using the new schedule.
However, is the concept well known amongst the working population, and does it appeal to the UK workforce? We asked our sample of SME employees to learn more.
Overall, we found that the concept of a four-day working week in UK companies was commonly known by our participants. 86% had heard of the system and its implementation in businesses in the country.
Did you know?
The UK’s campaign for a 4-day working week proposes many benefits for companies when adopting a shorter working week.
Some core advantages they highlighted include:
- Improvements in the cost of living for workers (thanks to lower commuting and childcare costs)
- More rest and relaxation time to help staff disconnect from work
- Better profits and performance for businesses
- Increased productivity
- The ability to attract better talent to the company
Furthermore, the changes are already close to home for 15% of these participants, as their companies have already introduced this system in parts of the business (although not in their particular cases). Despite the seeming momentum, however, over half (54%) of those aware of these schemes believe their firms are not actively considering the change to shorter working weeks.
Although our survey results suggested that the majority of employers weren’t planning to implement a four-day week, our participants made it clear that they felt positive about the idea of this way of working.
The vast majority of respondents whose company doesn’t offer this type of scheme said they would be interested in working a four-day workweek, with only 15% saying they preferred a standard five-day week. This was a very strong vote of confidence for this working practice and suggests that companies might want to consider starting to look at the feasibility of adopting such a system in case it becomes more commonplace.
94% will only accept a 4-day week if their conditions stay the same
We’ve already observed that the four-day workweek elicits a strong positive reaction from our UK sample of SME employees who work at least five days a week on a computer. What is still unclear are the conditions workers may face if a four-day working week is adopted.
A four-day week can be implemented in many different ways by businesses. It could require employees to work under one of the following three possible scenarios:
- Working more hours daily
- Accepting a pay cut for working fewer hours
- Receiving the same pay for fewer hours worked
We asked workers what preferences they have about these possible implementation options.
Would employees accept a pay cut for a 4-day work week?
We found that 94% of those interested in this scheme said they would only accept a four-day schedule if their salary was unaffected. Furthermore, from the 6% who would accept a pay cut for working shorter hours, only 23% said they would accept a 20% cut in salary, equivalent to one day less worked per week.
In the group of our sample who would insist on maintaining the same salary as they are paid for five days’ work, most (60%) said they would accept the same hours per week, albeit condensed into four days instead of five. 35% said they would only accept this type of scheme if they were paid the same for working for fewer hours (for example, 32 hours instead of 40).
Crucially, however, 74% of these workers would consider changing jobs to attain a four-day working week as long as their conditions, such as perks, salary, and contract, remained unchanged.
Considerations for SMEs
These results suggest that successfully implementing a four-day week in a business relies on maintaining current salaries. This means there is a choice to be made over extending daily working hours to compensate or cutting the number of hours worked per week proportionately.
A cut in hours naturally raises concerns about a subsequent loss in productivity. Whilst the recent pilot study conducted in Britain suggests that there is a minimal-to-zero loss in productivity, companies should always evaluate these factors before moving ahead with implementation plans.
What advantages do 4-day working weeks potentially offer businesses?
There was high interest in the adoption of four-day working weeks amongst our participants. However, we wanted to dive a little deeper into what benefits might be attained by both employers and employees.
We investigated this further by asking our sample of employees working in companies without an active four-day-week scheme what the benefits for staff could be. Many of their answers focused on improved work-life balance and family time.
Additionally, some of the positive impacts that staff think businesses could gain from the change include:
- Improved employee satisfaction: 60%
- Reduced absences: 40%
- Better productivity: 37%
- The chance to attract potential candidates: 36%
- Lower operational costs, with potential environmental benefits: 36%
A minority (8%), however, believed there was no positive impact for businesses operating under a four-day week.
The perceived benefits selected by staff broadly align with the findings of the recent UK pilot study. These revealed that productivity improved, revenue grew or stayed the same, absenteeism fell, and business performance increased when a four-day week was implemented.
Many of the possible advantages we saw selected in this study broadly can be seen in real-life studies of the four-day week. Therefore, many of these theoretical competitive strengths gained from one less day a week at work appear to have evidence to back them up.
What are the disadvantages of 4-day weeks?
On the negative side, our participants anticipated that a shorter workweek could have serious disadvantages as well. In our findings, we saw that people working in companies with no kind of four-day week scheme believe it could cause the following adverse effects for employees:
- Work overload: 47%
- Reduced income (from working fewer hours): 39%
- Difficulty completing their regular work on time: 35%
- Working overtime: 29%
- Complicated work reorganisation: 24%
- Trouble getting assistance from colleagues and managers: 20%
- Difficulty maintaining professional development: 17%
- Other: 1%
Nevertheless, we did also observe 9% who didn’t think there were any disadvantages with a four-day week. This was over three times as many respondents who thought there would be no advantages of a shorter work week for employees.
Tips for SMEs
Applications like project management tools and collaboration software can be used to help avoid some of the workload disadvantages mentioned above. In our second report, we look at which software can prove beneficial to creating flexible workplaces in more detail.
78% say they are dissatisfied at work
Job satisfaction amongst staff is a goal most companies (and employees) strive to achieve. Are companies currently succeeding in that goal under their current working arrangements?
To learn more about how SME employees feel about working in a standard five-day working pattern when options like the four-day week and flexible working arrangements exist, we investigated how our sample regarded their current situation.
In general, over three-quarters of employees we surveyed expressed some level of dissatisfaction in their current job. Considering that our total sample presently works to a standard model of at least five days a week, it raises questions about whether more flexible working arrangements could alleviate these problems.
To try and understand what elements could play a part in driving workers to become dissatisfied in the first place, we asked employees to select up to three factors that determine their job satisfaction. For most (61%), salary played one of the biggest parts, and this was followed by work-life balance (54%).
Despite the dissatisfaction reported, most of our respondents hadn’t changed jobs in the last two years. Only 29% have moved companies during this time, although we did see that 58% of those who did stay put had considered leaving their current firms.
Tips for SMEs
Our interviews with four HR experts in 2022 uncovered several key learnings that can help SMEs retain their best employees and reduce turnover. This included:
- Open-mindedness towards flexible and remote working
- Designing a clear and forward-thinking company culture
- Awareness of changes in employee workplace expectations since COVID-19
Additionally, we also queried those who had changed jobs in the past two years about what prompted them to leave.
Job changers noted that the top two reasons for leaving their previous positions were insufficient salary (33%) and poor work-life balance (22%).
The findings demonstrate again that salary and work-life balance are the most important factors for employees in SMEs. These are factors employers should take into account to attract and retain staff.
Working from home is non-negotiable for 61% of participants who work remote/hybrid
In our sample, 53% work in offices, 35% have a hybrid arrangement, and 12% work from home. This reflects one of the key shifts of the COVID-19 pandemic as now, almost half of our sample (47%) are not office-based just over a year since movement restrictions ended.
This also broadly aligns with our 2022 study looking at workplace conditions following COVID-19 restrictions. In that study, we observed 30% had gained a more flexible work environment since the pandemic, and 29% reported a better work-life balance.
The widening of flexibility had a big impact on how workers regard loyalty to a business as a result. This was demonstrated by the fact that 61% of the remote and hybrid workers we surveyed said they would consider leaving their jobs if they lost the chance to work from home.
We also investigated whether the other 53% of our sample who only worked in an office would prefer having the chance to work from home.
Two-thirds (66%) said they would like the opportunity to work remotely. This was broadly in line with the positive sentiment we’ve seen regarding flexibility in the workplace across the survey so far.
Tips for SMEs:
As more companies shift towards newer working arrangements like hybrid attendance or four-day working weeks, guidelines for employees may need a rethink.
Although it is important to be aware, as we saw in the data, once flexibility is given, it is difficult to remove as employees may look to leave if this happens. Yet, with many staff members ranking work-life balance as a key factor for employee satisfaction, looking for ways to make working arrangements more flexible can help employers respond to employee needs.
To learn what employees really think, survey software can help companies poll their staff to understand what motivates them.
83% of workers with strict working hours want flexible work hours
Continuing on the theme of working hours, we also studied how our sample is expected to treat their daily schedule. In doing so, we found that more than half of our sample (53%) work flexible hours (where starting and finishing times can be adjusted).
However, the participants who work to a strict timetable in their company expressed a clear desire to have flexible work hours. In this case, we saw that 83% of participants said they would like to have more flexibility in organising their working hours.
This broadly reflects our recruitment survey published in October 2022, where we observed 53% of employees expressed a preference for flexible working hours. In fact, this was the top element considered when applying for a new job amongst UK participants.
Workers who already have the opportunity to adjust the hours worked on a daily basis also emphasised the importance that this flexibility has on their job, as seen in the following graph.
Despite many of the workers we surveyed favouring flexible working schedules, only 20% of participants with a set start and end time said their company plans to launch flexible working hours. 60% believed their companies hadn't made plans to do it, and 20% didn’t know if such plans were being made.
Is the 4-day week and more working flexibility important to SME employees?
In our survey, we hoped to learn whether SME employees believed a four-day week and flexible hours were important to workers. This was broadly seen to be the case in the data we’ve uncovered.
This has revealed a few key insights that companies should take into account when considering the adoption of flexible working:
- Employees believe a four-day week can convey benefits such as improved work-life balance, fewer sick days, and reduced costs on expenses (such as commuting for employees)
- Most employees will only accept a four-day week if salary and conditions remain the same
- Flexible working practices are becoming increasingly commonplace, and they are proving a desirable perk to employees
- Work-life balance and salaries are key to job satisfaction and employee retention, with 54% and 61% of our sample, respectively, highlighting these points as their most important criteria for assessing workplace satisfaction
However, SMEs may still have concerns about what impact flexible working practices have on workflows and productivity. In our second report, we will be looking at the software that companies can use to help introduce and manage a more flexible workplace.
The data for GetApp’s Flexible Working Hours and Four-Day Week Survey was collected in February 2023 and comprises answers from 1,047 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following selection criteria:
- UK residents
- Aged between 18 and 65 years old
- Full-time employed in a company with under 250 employees
- Working five or more days a week
- Using a computer at work