In this latest instalment of our UNLEASHcast interview series we talk to Lloyd Davey, partner at law firm Stevens and Bolton, about the logistics of implementing a four-day week. Grab a coffee and have a listen.
Check out the the audio above, or the full transcript beneath…
Jon Kennard: Okay, Lloyd, thank you ever so much for talking to UNLEASHcast. Today we are talking about the very modernist idea of the four-day week, which seems to have kind of picked up in popularity, again, not least by I think the fallout from the pandemic and people changing their work habits. Let’s talk about the legality of it. Legally speaking, is a four-day week a complex thing to do. Are there any legal barriers to it being rolled out?
Lloyd Davey: Thanks Jon, thanks for having me on on the podcast. I wouldn’t say it’s legally complex in that sense. I mean, there are certainly a lot of operational and legal considerations to bear in mind, of course, it’s an entirely new concept to a lot of people. But with careful planning and effective employee consultation, then I don’t really see that those barriers are insurmountable. There are plenty of legal considerations to bear in mind, as I said, one of which is, you know, this is a quite a significant contractual change, a change to employees employment contracts, there’s going to have to be a process of consulting with employees about that seeking their agreement to that change.
But with good planning, good employee consultation, good back and forth dialogue, perhaps with employee reps or trade unions are those present and recognized in the workplace. All of those things are capable of being taken care of, could we see four-day working weeks being deployed across industries? Yes, we could, although I think it’s realistically unlikely in the short- to medium-term. Sure, the pandemic has influenced and accelerated changes in working practices. So I agree with you, it’s not surprising that there’s support for the four-day working week, and that that’s gathering momentum.
But the reality is, I think this is going to be a business-by-business decision for a long time to come and changes in the law will be a very, very long way off. So I think it’s fair for businesses to determine the approach that they want to take based on what’s best for them, their employees, customers, and ultimately for shareholders as well.
JK: So moving on, from the legal aspects of it, do you think a four-day week might be a way to retain employees? We’ve obviously already mentioned the pandemic. But it seems like there’s there isn’t a time when there isn’t a war for talent going on. And that has only intensified. People are changing. The you know, the people they work for, there’s the ‘Great Resignation’, of course, so a two-part question here. I think, first of all, do you think the four-day week might be a good way to retain employees? And the next question is, what are the other things that companies can do and employers can do to retain their employees as well as the four-day week?
LD: Is it a useful recruitment and retention tool? Yes, I think it could be, it might not be the panacea that employers are looking for, necessarily, but it’s certainly something to be thrown into the mix along with other strategies. Through the pandemic, there’s been a blurring of work and private lives, we have an always-on culture, particularly in the tech world, with increased risk of employee burnout. There’s much more focus on mindfulness, on employee wellbeing, greater satisfaction in work should ultimately lead to lower stress levels.
And so from a retention perspective, if you’re a business that can operate with this kind of model, and that doesn’t detract from productivity, but it leads to employees being happier, then naturally, they’re less likely to be looking elsewhere. I would guess, the flip side of the coin, you mentioned the ‘Great Resignation‘. It’s hard to recruit; a lot of the businesses I speak to say the biggest challenge at the moment is finding the right people. So could this be a useful recruitment tool? Yes, it could well be, and particularly perhaps for younger and employees who are typically considered to be looking for more flexibility, better work life balance throughout.
I think there’s also there’s another angle here, which is diversity. I mean, it’s still the case that statistically, more women than men would work part time and would take a corresponding pay cuts. Would a shorter working week therefore attract more women back into the workplace after having children [and] could that result in a fair sharing of childcare responsibilities between men and women, and as result in time lead to a narrowing of any gender pay gaps that employers might be witnessing within their businesses, so it I think all of those things would take some time. But yes, it as a concept. It certainly has its appeal both for retaining talent, making sure good talent’s not walking through the door and trying to recruit the better, better talent that’s out there.
JK: Yeah, it definitely seems like it can be the jump-off point for a raft of bigger changes, [and] also kind of centered around that, for those reasons that you’ve outlined, Diversity in Tech is reporting that 52% of tech workers have suffered from anxiety or depression. Do you think the longer weekend could give employees more time to recharge? Or even more than that, could it could a widespread introduction of the four-day week address a lot of mental health concerns across the tech sector? And aside from just the four-day week again, have you seen other businesses rolling out more effective mental health policies?
LD: As you know, for obvious reasons, the disruption off the back of the last couple of years was there’s certainly been a lot of studies about mental health during the pandemic. Most of those studies have reported increases in mental health issues. I mean that those figures don’t really surprise me. I could afford a week alleviate some of those mental health issues was certainly a number of studies say that they can. I think we all benefit when we get an extra day off and get a long weekend to recharge. And so yes, one of the main cited benefits of a four-day working week is the improvement to employees health and well being greater satisfaction at work would generally lead to lower stress levels, and possibly a better state of mental health.
You’re giving an employee an opportunity to do other things on that day off, you know, spend time with friends and family, getting chores done in order to free up the weekend, or simply just to decompress from the stresses of the of the job. I guess it’s also important to remember as well, that everyone is different. And there’s some anecdotal evidence that has suggested a compressed working week, and hours being compressed down into four days might actually increase the stress that some people feel they had less time to get their work done.
Plenty of people say there aren’t enough hours in the day, while if you’re looking to get the same amount of work done in fewer days, that could only exacerbate that kind of problem for that type of person. So yeah, I think what that identifies is the need for any business that is contemplating putting in place a four-day working week to properly consult with employees, make sure that any concerns and issues are flushed out very early, and that consultation process, make sure that this is something that works for employees and works for all employees.
What about other things that I see employers doing? Well, quite naturally, there’s been a migration particularly in the tech sector to hybrid or remote working. And that in itself can help with mental health issues, the flexibility that it offers, allowing employees to have more time at home, to be able to take a break and work more flexible hours. That has been beneficial.
I mean, it’s a double edged sword, of course, because as I mentioned, a few minutes ago, we now have a culture of being always-on, always contactable. And so maybe one of the things that employers could do is investigate the right to disconnect, giving employees the opportunity to disconnect from their emails from work, chats, and so on. Some European countries are way ahead of the UK in this respect, and have implemented laws and policies, which give the employee the opportunity, the right to disconnect, essentially making sure that employees understand that even if they receive an email out of working hours, they’re not expected to reply until their next online during their contracted hours. So that’s something that could be considered.
Another trend that emerged a few years ago, particularly coming out of the US tech firms was unlimited holiday unlimited PTO (paid time off), that hasn’t really caught hold in the UK in the same way as it has in the US. Partly, I think, because the UK has more generous holiday entitlement by law. And it has to be implemented pretty carefully, to make sure that it aligns with UK statutory holiday entitlements, but it’s yes, it’s certainly doable. And that in itself would possibly give some employees that additional flexibility, they might want to take a bit of extra time off if they need it in order to better manage their their work levels and the stress associated with it.
JK: You’ve touched on the difficulties of implementing it. It’s still counterintuitive, I think, not just for employers, but for employees as well, like you said, having their work hours compressed down, there’s also the sort of another idea of the four-day working week where you don’t compress the hours and you simply work four days. And that’s that. So there’s more than one way of looking at this as a solution. But how can employers handle any objections or concerns? Because, you know, there are other policies that people can bring in, like you say, like unlimited holiday, but there may be some employees who don’t want this to come in. So what can employers do to put these fears or concerns at ease?
LD: Well, I think there has to be an acknowledgement that this isn’t for everybody. It does sound appealing. Certainly, I think if you ask most people, would you like to work fewer days for the same amount of money? Most people would say, absolutely. But there are all sorts of personal reasons why it might not work for people. And you would flush those out through a process of consultation with employees. And you need to be mindful of that. If you’re working compressed hours, for instance, that results in for longer days, that knock on impact of that might mean it’s more difficult to do school runs or nursery pickups or something like that. And that just makes it may make it impossible for that particular employee to be able to adopt to that working pattern. You’re right there, it is slightly counterintuitive. I think one of the main issues about four day working weeks is the focus on productivity. There are reports that productivity increases when the working week is reduced to four days are the reports that at least it hasn’t been detrimentally impacted.
But clearly, it’s got to be measurable, and I think one of the knock on effects of that. And what maybe makes employees slightly nervous is there may be more of a focus on performance management, the performance of those employees who are expected to produce the same level of output in in less time, their performance is brought into sharper focus. And generally speaking, performance management is not an area that employers are typically great at doing. There are some good practitioners of performance management out there, of course. But typically, when I’m speaking to clients, it’s not surprising that very often, performance is not properly managed.
But I think it would have to be really it for this kind of system to work as well as it’s intended to be. And I think another point to mention, as well as it may be that a longer days over a four day week, are just not workable for people. Employers need to be mindful of any employees who have disabilities that mental or physical and a longer day may not fit well, with whatever else that needs to be taken care of appointments and so on. So there has to be some flexibility and some adjustments made to that I think a one size fits all isn’t necessarily going to work. And where that might ultimately lead us employees being given the choice. They want to stick with their five-day working week pattern, or do they want to drop down to four days a week with any commensurate drop in pay and hours? If that’s the case, I think that seems like a pretty workable solution.
JK: Hopefully, you know, because like you say, it’s not it’s not for everybody, but possibly to give people the option seems like a really good way forward. And and it does speak to the idea that employees seem to be listened to a lot more. I think we’re also moving away from this idea that there’s only one way to kind of organize your business and organize the people who work in it, which is great, you know. So, Lloyd, thanks ever so much for talking to UNLEASHcast. Really appreciate it.
LD: Welcome, Jon. Thanks for inviting me on to the show.