Is a four day working week really a boon for productivity and staff wellbeing?

A UK PR company claims to be among the first businesses to implement a four day working week without cutting staff pay. But is this really the wave of the future for small businesses?

Gloucestershire-based Radioactive PR claims to be among the world’s first companies to implement a four day working week without cutting staff pay.

The news will no doubt resonate with the millennial workforce, with their penchant for demanding frivolity disguised as ’employee benefits’.

But with the UK’s productivity levels still languishing, can operational gains really be worked in by working less?

Radioactive PR seems to think so. Founder Rich Leigh says that during the trial, he’s won new business, witnessed an improved work-life balance for employees, and claims strong feedback from clients.

The approach may work, on occasion, for an industry that seems frequently to take Fridays off anyway. But it seems highly doubtful that the theme can be replicated across sectors.

In the main, companies can’t just stop servicing their clients for a day a week, especially those that have a competitive advantage in being ‘always on’. They’ll simply lose business to rivals that are actually responsive.

See more on productivity: Upping productivity: How UK SMEs can rival Germany

Advocates of a four-day week will also come to realise that, far from energising staff, employees will only have to squeeze the same volume of work into less time, increasing the demands on a workforce during office hours. For a population struggling to produce things as quickly as the French, for example, that’s not good news.

Aside from this, difficulties in finding childcare due to staff working later, and holidaying staff placing further strain on the already-stretched workforce, add to the list of detriments.

The positives of the four day week seem not to hold up to scrutiny. For example, are small businesses really going to see significant cost savings on security and maintenance, and utility bills, that successfully negate the risks? Are we really to believe that a three-day weekend will compensate for the pressure of ten-hour shifts?

Leigh says that, whenever the company wins more business that looks like affecting that balance, he ‘hires, and will continue to hire, as necessary’. Good for him. But tell that to a down-at-heel high street shop in Doncaster, for whom hiring anyone other than part time is a pipe dream, or a bootstrapping start-up with existing employees already wearing five hats each.

The four-day week seems to be a wonderful excuse for staffers to edge closer in spirit to their footloose gig economy contemporaries.

But if it’s at the cost of getting things done, we could be seeing our already miserable productivity stats spiral further out of control.

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