6 Startups on a Four Day Work Week. What's the Impact?
The idea of a four day week has been around for a long time. In fact, during the 2019 general election in the UK, a Labour party MP stated that “the next Labour government would reduce the average full time working week to 32 hours, within the next decade.”
Although the Labour party didn’t win that election, and a 32 hour working week was never adopted, it hasn’t stopped some UK businesses and startups from introducing this on their own accord.
A four day work week isn’t something that’s limited to the UK. It’s an idea that's been experimented with all around the world. For example, in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian attracted global interest after its trial had positive outcomes. While much closer to home, in France, they have been working a 35 hour week since 2000!
Although it may not sound like much, it’s a difficult strategy to adopt for businesses used to working five days. It’s not as simple as just dropping a day - you need to make sure that the hours dropped don't affect the work being done. Businesses need to learn ways to become more productive, efficient and economical to meet productivity goals within their usual working hours.
This is a hard situation to manage and finding the right balance is far from easy.
A study by Henley Business School found that a four day work week saved UK businesses a combined £104bn a year (as of 2021). Benefits included:
- Boosted productivity
- Improved team retention
- Increased talent attraction
- Transformed employee satisfaction
So, how does working fewer hours equate to savings? It comes down to the fact that staff take less time off sick, and productivity levels during work hours actually increase.
With the recent coronavirus pandemic forcing businesses around the world to adopt a new approach to employee hours, flexible working models were found to be beneficial and help cut costs.
These UK based startups are all improving employee work life balance with a four day work week:
6 startups on a four day work week
Headspace is part of Headspace Health, which aims to be the world’s most accessible and comprehensive provider of mental health and wellbeing care. Used in 190 countries, they partner with companies and provide health plans allowing access to:
- Psychiatry to members and employees
Current partners include companies such as Starbucks, Adobe, Delta Air Lines and ViacomCBS.
Bakedin began back in May 2013, as a time saving baking kit, that still gave the “full baking from scratch experience,” but with a little less hassle.
Following further product launches, the business grew steadily and the founders were able to quit their day jobs. Today Bakedin’s products are sold in thousands of shops and online retailers in the UK, Europe and North America.
CEO and founder Joe Munns has put his employees on a four day work week since he started the firm. Previously he worked for IBM and he was able to compress his work hours down into a four day week, so when he launched his own business he was keen to give others the opportunity to do the same.
Atom Bank Atom Bank is a retail bank. It was the first bank in the UK to be purpose built for smartphone or tablet, without any physical bricks and mortar branches. Based in Durham, they became largest company in Britain to introduce a four day work week.
They were able to reduce hours for all employees, without having to reduce salary. The scheme began on 1 November 2021 for all employees with a corresponding reduction in working hours from 37 to 34 per week.
The aim was to support improved employee mental and physical wellbeing whilst improving business productivity within the bank.
Atom Bank sees itself as a leader in the transformation of work norms. Driven by the positive impact of technology and the need to live and work more sustainably.
Bolt is a fintech startup that makes a one click checkout platform for online retailers. As with most tech startups, one of the risks to success is employee burnout. This is one of the reasons that the company became the first tech unicorn to try out a four day work week.
For a three month trial, (with a permanent move if it works out) Bolt is giving all its employees every Friday off. Bolt’s goal of a permanent three day weekend depends on its employee team breaking old habits and traditional work patterns. They recognise that the UK workforce has gotten accustomed to the five day workweek as the norm. And they want to challenge this through innovations to balance productivity and staff wellbeing.
Outcomes First Group create safe, nurturing environments in which individuals can dream big and achieve more. The company has grown organically to include fostering agencies, clinical and wellbeing services, specialist schools and residential care homes. Committed to equality and diversity for all, the business aims to establish a fully inclusive world.
The company vision is simple, to build positive futures for vulnerable children, young people and adults in the UK.
The group has put more than 1,000 of its 5,000 strong workforce on to a four day work week with no loss of pay. Part time staff have also been able to benefit from a reduction in their hours.
Outcomes First Group believe that their employees should benefit from a better work life balance, and through having that they will be more productive.
Sounds Like These is a creative audio company based in London. They offer music composition, sound design and audio post-production services to clients that include Nike, TikTok, Netflix and Google.
Although working in the creative arts goes hand in hand with managing demanding clients, the studio has been able to adopt a four day work week without too much trouble. By communicating well with clients and being innovative in how work is prioritised the company has been able to successfully make the change for its employees.
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Are there disadvantages to a four day work week?
Despite some positive trials in the UK and around the world, there are some disadvantages when it comes to the four day work week in the UK. These may help explain why it's not widespread practice...
Some employers have questioned whether some job roles can, or should, be performed over a four day work week. For large employers, it can be operationally tricky to introduce changes like this for a workforce that is interdependent but diverse. For example, it could be straightforward to put back office staff on a four day work week, but sales or customer service staff might have to remain on five day weeks, to meet customer demands and expectations.
In reality, some employers thinking about a four day work week will still demand employees work the same 40 hours per week, but across four days instead of the traditional five. Extending shifts to meet the hours over less days might have the undesired effect of increasing employees’ stress levels. This would then negate any positive changes to staff wellbeing and productivity.
Depending on the model that companies adopt, managers might find keeping in touch with their teams very difficult. Especially if employees are taking different days off from each other. Keeping track of this and managing projects could get very complex and might mean meeting deadlines is compromised.
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