The pandemic was the catalyst for a revolution in the world of work. Workers in industries as diverse as finance to hospitality were either forced to work from home or furloughed. This caused many workers to rethink their work/life balance and shift careers in record numbers.

As we move towards a new normal, staff retention has become one of the most business-critical issues of today. What a business needs to offer workers to keep them happy has morphed considerably. It is no longer simply a case of paying the biggest salary. Rather, employers today need to consider a much wider range of factors that may appeal to staff. One of the ones that is gaining the most traction is a move towards a four-day week.

Taking the plunge

Debates over the length of the working week are nothing new. Prior to the 1920s, six days weeks were the norm. It wasn’t until 1926 and The Ford Motor Company that the Monday-to-Friday pattern we are familiar with took hold. Whilst the move towards a four-day week is causing palpitations for some HR directors, several are willing to give it a go. In fact, over 60 UK companies are taking part in the biggest ever trial of a four-day week in the world right now. Trials in places as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and Portugal have also been announced.

At ADP, we recently surveyed 33,000 workers for our People at Work 2022 report, and it make for interesting reading. In it, six-in-ten (60%) UK workers said they would like more flexibility as to when they work, such as condensing hours into a four-day week. This rose to almost three-quarters (72%) of workers in IT/telco, 66% in finance, and 63% in leisure and hospitality. Interesting, only 34% of those in real estate wanted more flexibility.

In response to worker expectations, some businesses are already taking the plunge. The iconic Landmark London hotel recently announced a move towards a four-day working week, placing staff on more pay for less time. The scheme was devised by Executive Head Chef Gary Klaner in a drive to deliver a better work/life balance for staff and improve the working environment in an industry unfortunately known for its high suicide rates.

A ticking timebomb

This desire for great flexibility comes at a time when there is a mental health ticking timebomb happening in offices up and down the land. Over half (51%) of men and 45% of women admit that their work is suffering due to their poor mental health. Stress is highest for those working within the media industry (63%), followed by IT/telco (58%), finance (54%) and construction (46%).

This is leading to almost three-in-ten (29%) workers actively trying to change their job and/or move into another industry. The sectors with most staff wanted to make the change were media (37%), finance (37%), manufacturing (34%) and retail (34%).

The desire for flexibility

Although pay remains a priority for many workers, almost half (45%) admit improving their work-life balance is such a motivator that they would accept a pay cut. For those working in IT/teco (64%), construction (61%) and finance (55%) the number is even higher. Similarly, four-in-ten (40%) workers would take a pay cut if it allowed them to have total flexibility over when they work. This rose to 57% in IT/telco, 50% in construction and 50% in media. Further, 40% would also be willing to take a pay cut if it would guarantee flexibility over the location they could work (i.e., remotely, or to split time between home and the office). This rose to 59% in IT/telco, 55% in construction and 52% in finance.

Yet, the preference for most (60%) workers would be to get more flexibility as to when they work but keeping the same number of hours they work during the week. For example, to transition from a traditional 40-hour five day working week towards four working days of 10 hours each. This preference was even higher in traditional office-based industries such as IT/telco (72%), finance (66%) and professional services (63%).

To truly achieve the efficiencies to make a four-day work week viable, new tools and operating practices often need to be introduced. The good news is that six-in-ten (60%) feel that their employer has already got the right systems in place to accommodate such as move. However, only 47% in leisure/hospitality, 49% in education and healthcare, and 50% in transportation agree.

The panacea for many

The biggest IP in any business is its staff. However, worker expectations have never been higher. Following the pandemic, obtaining a healthier work-life balance has become the panacea for many. And they are willing to walk away if this is not being met.

As workers want more flexibility, many are starting to demand a move towards a four-day week. Not so long ago, such an idea might have been laughed off. However, it now merits serious consideration. Especially if granting requests for higher wages is not a viable option.

It is important that employers sit up and take notice. It is clear that hybrid working and the workers desire for flexibility is not going away. In fact, it’s growing in momentum. Luckily, businesses are starting to take notice. Almost a quarter (23%) of workers say they have already been given the opportunity to move to a four-day working week within the next 12 months. Whilst the move is most popular in manufacturing (32%), IT/telco (32%) and media 26%, it is important that all industries place it on the agenda.