Five questions for teams considering a four-day week

Photo of a modern office desk with a white coffee cup prominently placed in the centre. The coffee cup has 'TGIT - Thank God It's Thursday' written on it in bold black letters. The background shows various office supplies like pens, a keyboard, a mouse, and some scattered papers. The lighting is natural, suggesting an early morning vibe with shadows cast by the window blinds.

From ‘back to work’ orders to hybrid hype, office life is the subject of a tense debate. In some places, at least.

Headlines stated last week that Nike is one of the latest big brands to order its employees to return to its office for four days a week.

In the UK, the government is advising local authorities against trialling a four-day working week. It seems only one council is doing this at the time of writing, however.

Neither of these things point to a widespread trend, but parties with an interest in the debate tend to seize on them. For those familiar with office life before the pandemic, how and where we work is a live and intensely personal question. Organisations are trying to find the best approach for their teams and customers, often amidst confusing or unhelpful guidance.

In the spirit of flexible working, they should be prepared to experiment, collaborate and tweak their approaches. Much of the current debate – in the media at least – doesn’t allow for this. Sadly, working life is ensnared in the latest culture war pitting office workers against the ‘woke from home’ brigade. The reality, as always, is more nuanced.

This is the context into which proposals for a four-day working week step in. The four-day week shouldn’t be confused with compressed hours, which enable staff to work their contracted time across fewer days. The difference here is that employers pay staff a full time rate for spending four days working. Supporters say this helps attract top talent, retain staff and boost employee engagement. This piece has some great case studies. Trials by governments in Wales and Scotland will examine these points further.

Despite the headlines, it’s not caught on widely yet. I get why it’s popular amongst staff who value work-life blance. I also understand the concerns behind the questions it raises.

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