UK four-day working week pilot launched

Richard Stuart-Turner
Tuesday, January 18, 2022

UK businesses have been invited to participate in a four-day working week pilot programme.

Rogers: Government support could help print production roles transition to a four-day week
Rogers: Government support could help print production roles transition to a four-day week

The launch of the six-month pilot of the reduced hour work model was announced yesterday (17 January) by 4 Day Week Global, which is working in partnership with think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University.

The launch of the UK pilot programme will run in parallel with trials in other international markets by 4 Day Week Global.

It said the UK is fertile ground for the future of work to flourish, with a study by Left Foot Forward finding that 60% of the British public are in favour of introducing a four-day working week, while Henley Business School research found that two thirds of UK businesses operating on a four-day week reported improvements in staff productivity.

4 Day Week Global pilot programme manager Joe O’Connor said: "More and more businesses are moving to productivity focused strategies to enable them to reduce worker hours without reducing pay. We are excited to launch the pilot programme in the UK and by the growing momentum and interest in the four-day week more broadly.

“The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’, to a sharper focus on the output being produced. 2022 will be the year that heralds in this bold new future for work."

UK companies have been invited to join the pilot, where they will trial a four-day week with no loss in pay for employees based on the principle of the 100:80:100 model – 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100% productivity. Details on how to join are at: bit.ly/four-day-week-UK.

Participating companies will have access to a package of support offered through the pilot programme including workshops delivered by international four-day week experts and pioneers, mentoring by UK four-day week business leaders, networking with other pilot companies and access to world-class academic research.

The organisers of the pilot programme aim to sign up between 20 and 30 UK companies. Researchers will work with each participating business to measure the impact on productivity in the business and the wellbeing of its workers, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

Numerous studies have shown that moving to a four-day week boosts productivity and workers’ wellbeing. When Microsoft trialled a four-day week with no loss of pay in its Japan office, productivity went up by 40%.

Some industry companies have already made the move to a four-day week, with packaging companies Belmont Packaging and UPAC Group both rolling out the work model last year.

Charles Rogers, managing director of London-based Portland Media and IPIA vice chair, has owned and run large print businesses before moving into marketing, design, and print management.

He told Printweek: “It is clear from four-day week trials that have taken place across Europe and in individual businesses, for office-based and admin roles, that there is a very significant boost to the wellbeing of team members as they can spend more time with family or pursuing personal interests.

“This has meant time and again studies have shown that overall there isn't a drop in productivity due to increases in motivation and daily productivity making up the balance of the reduced working week. There has also been consistent evidence to show a four-day week results in far lower loss of productivity due to time off work from stress-related illness.

“The drawback though is when it comes to manufacturing and production roles, as experienced team members are able to consistently hit a level of productivity each day. If there is a move to a four-day week then they would not be able to produce more per day over those four days to make up the deficit – they are already at the limit of what can be produced.

“The result would then be an overall loss of productivity for the business that can only be made up by employing 20% additional production staff. With the revenue of print businesses remaining largely static – and under intense pressure due to market changes and now Covid pressures – there won’t be the revenue available to pay individual production staff the same wages for a four-day week as they were getting for five and remain competitive on price.”

He added: “Even if it is legislated for, which would set a level competitive playing field, there is still then the issue that the consumer would not accept an increase in print prices of 20% to accommodate paying more production staff to accommodate a four-day week and protect wages at their current levels.

“There is a real danger we would see an overall reduction in print volumes if this were the case. The solution of course would be for the government to create a grant scheme to make up for such shortfalls for manufacturing businesses, allowing them to pay staff the same wages for a four-day week, without having to put up prices or reduce overall productivity. This could be phased out over a long period of time once the market had adjusted.”

Rogers said similar models had been adopted by the industry before and the result for the pre-press industry was collapse when desktop publishing took hold, as it could not sustain the cost to productivity model.

“In the 1980s I worked a three-day week with rotating shifts each period, i.e. worked 12-hour shifts Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then off for a week when the other staff were there. It was called a continental shift.

“I had six weeks of holiday a year plus bank holidays, meaning I worked less than half the year in a full-time job. It was very nice while it lasted, but it could not be sustained in the face of the digital communication boom.

“The model can work effectively for experienced administration and office staff but, as explained, it will be very difficult for print businesses to implement in production roles without a long-period of government support to assist with a transition to this model.”

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