Rolling out a four-day week on a trial basis will be the best way for employers to assess whether this way of working is suitable for their organisation and to iron out any unforeseen difficulties.

Fiona Herrell weighs up the pros and cons of moving to a four-day working week with no loss of pay for staff. 

As Covid-19 restrictions ease, including a lifting of the request that people in England work from home (Scotland is to follow suit from 31 January 2022), many organisations have already decided that they will not be returning to their pre-pandemic working practices.

While much has been written about organisations adopting hybrid working practices or introducing ‘work from anywhere’ policies, some employers are considering an even more radical change – the introduction of a four-day working week.

The concept

The idea is a simple one – employees are required to work four days a week instead of five but with no reduction in their productivity levels or their pay. It is, therefore, different from part-time working (where pay is reduced in line with the reduction in working hours) and also from compressed hours (where full-time hours are worked over a shorter number of days so that there is no reduction in pay).

As always, the devil will be in the detail. There will be a decision to be made as to whether, for example, all employees will have the same non-working day, with the organisation closing for business on that day. That model may work for a professional services firm but may not be attractive for a supermarket chain or at least not work for its in-store staff. 

An alternative approach will be to have different non-working days for each employee scheduled across the working week so that the organisation’s hours of business do not need to change. In this scenario, however, it is likely that additional staff will need to be recruited and there may be concerns about the impact that increasing headcount will have on the organisation’s bottom line.

Potential benefits

A four-day week would undoubtedly be a positive step down the road towards more flexible working and a better work-life balance. Employees working in this way would have more time to pursue hobbies and other interests and to spend time with family and friends. As a result, the benefits of a four-day work week are often stated to include, unsurprisingly increased colleague morale and higher staff retention rates. Increases in productivity and reduced sickness absence levels are also often mentioned as benefits of working in this way.

Protagonists also argue that a four-day week would reduce unemployment levels. Not only would more jobs be created but, it is said, the ability to work a four-day week may attract individuals with childcare responsibilities who are not currently in paid employment.

There are also potential environmental benefits if fewer people are commuting to work each day and places of work are only open four days a week instead of five.  A report commissioned by the 4 Day Week campaign and published in May 2021 detailed that moving to a four-day working week in the UK could reduce our carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes per year by 2025. To put that figure in context, it is more than the carbon footprint of Switzerland.

Potential difficulties

There is a concern that unless there is an associated drop in workload, reducing the number of days on which employees work could actually cause or exacerbate feelings of stress, fatigue or burnout.

Sceptics often question the impact the move would have on productivity levels. Is it realistic to expect employees to maintain 100% productivity if they are only working 80% of their hours? There may be a concern that, in some businesses, people would end up working on their old fifth day in any event to keep on top of their work (just as many people who currently work five days a week will do some work at the weekend to catch up after a busy week or get ready for the week ahead).

Employers with minimum staffing requirements (perhaps for health and safety reasons or to meet customer demand) would need to employ additional staff to plug the gaps and incur the direct and indirect costs associated with doing so.

The headlines are always around the move to a four-day week but it will be important not to forget about those who already work part-time. If an organisation moves full-time staff to a four-day week with no reduction in pay, but does nothing for part-time workers, the latter will find themselves earning significantly less per hour than their ‘full-time’ counterparts.

Under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000, part-time workers have the right not to be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers unless the difference in treatment can be objectively justified. Part-time workers are also more likely to be female, raising the prospect of sex discrimination claims if they are treated less favourably and possibly equal pay claims.

When designing a four-day working week scheme, even on a trial basis, to ensure fairness for part-time workers and those with non-standard working patterns, it is likely to be more appropriate to focus on a percentage reduction in hours across the board.

Could we see legislation in the UK on a four-day week?

There is some precedent for countries introducing a four-day working week (at least for those in the public sector). In the UAE, as of January 2022, public-sector employees in Dubai have moved to a four-and-a-half day working week (they now work Monday to Friday lunchtime). Public sector employees in Sharjah have moved to a four-day working week (they now work Monday to Thursday). Private sector employers, however, are not currently required to change their working patterns.

In the UK, there has been a 48-hour limit on average weekly hours since 1998 by virtue of the Working Time Regulations 1998. Workers can opt out of this time limit and, in reality, many do, allowing them to work more than 48 hours per week. The UK government holds the power to set a maximum limit on weekly working hours and could, therefore, reduce the 48-hour limit. However, it seems unlikely that it will legislate for a maximum four-day working week any time soon. For now, at least, it will be for employers to decide whether they wish to go down this road.


Rolling out a four-day week on a trial basis will be the best way for employers to assess whether this way of working is suitable for their organisation and to iron out any unforeseen difficulties. Engaging with the workforce and taking on board their feedback will also be important for shaping future working practices.

All employee communications will need to emphasise that the change is being made on a trial basis and that it does not necessarily mean that this way of working will be adopted permanently. Even with that message being clearly communicated, it is not difficult to imagine the employee relations issues that could arise in an organisation which has trialled a four-day working week but ultimately decides not to implement it permanently.

If a four-day working week is going to be implemented, changes will need to be made to the workforce’s terms and conditions of employment. These will, however, be relatively limited. It will be a case of recording in writing the reduction in the employee’s working hours as well as documenting the change in working days. All other terms and conditions of employment should remain the same.

When making changes to employee terms and conditions of employment, consent is usually required and can often be difficult to obtain. Usually, it is necessary to engage in a consultation exercise during which the varied terms can be ‘sold’ to the employees. In some cases, it may even be necessary to dismiss and offer re-engagement on the new terms in order to implement the contractual changes. However, employers who are planning to move to a shorter working week while maintaining pay are unlikely to experience any difficulties in obtaining employee agreement to the changes to their contracts of employment.

Four-day week pilots

A pilot is underway in the UK which will see organisations take part in a six-month trial, during which employees will work a four-day week with no loss in pay.

The pilot is being rolled out by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the UK think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. Similar pilot schemes are taking place in Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The pilot, which is reported to have a number of employers signed up already, is open to organisations that are interested in, considering trialling or introducing a four-day week. Those taking part in the pilot will have access to the expertise, tools and resources needed to run a smooth and successful trial. This will include attendance at workshops delivered by companies that have already successfully implemented a four-day week, mentoring, networking and a wellbeing and productivity assessment.

There are information sessions taking place in February and March 2022 and the deadline for signing up to the first phase of the pilot programme is 31 March. The trial period will run from June to December 2022.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has indicated that it will establish a £10m pilot to help companies explore the benefits and costs of a four-day working week (although it is the UK, rather than the Scottish, government which holds the power to set a maximum limit on weekly working hours).

A realistic possibility?

The idea that we could move to a four-day working week in the UK is not new. At its annual conference in September 2018, the Trades Union Congress called for a four-day working week to be implemented by 2100. In its 2019 General Election manifesto, Labour included plans for a 32-hour working week with no reduction in pay. In June 2020, a group of cross-party MPs wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking him to establish a commission to explore the viability of introducing a four-day working week as part of the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day and, in the 20th century, workers secured the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays. The global pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of change in many areas but even so, it seems unlikely that the UK as a whole will move to a four-day working week any time soon. What is clear, however, is that at an organisational level, we will continue to see employers adopting this way of working.

To discuss anything raised in this blog further, please contact our Employment and Immigration team

This article was originally published in the February 2022 #227 edition of the Employment Law Journal.