Is it time for the Jewish community to embrace the four-day week?

25th June 2022

Over the next six months, a fascinating pilot is taking place in workplaces around England.

Seventy companies and more than 3,000 workers are trialling a four-day week. It will be based on what is known as the 100:80:100 model – where staff receive 100 per cent of their pay while working 80 per cent of their previous hours, in exchange for a commitment to 100 per cent productivity.

Once just a utopian dream, a four-day week is now becoming more of a reality – with similar tests happening in Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Japan and New Zealand.

The benefits to employees are somewhat obvious – an improved work/life balance, better quality of personal time and therefore an improvement in mental health and decrease in stress and burnout.

But what has often been missing in the discussion, up until now, is the benefit a four-day week can bring to employers too.

It sounds counterintuitive but, in the trials we’ve had results from so far, it would seem output actually increases during the four days people are working compared to performance during a standard five days.

Staff at New Zealand financial services firm Perpetual Guardian were 20 per cent more productive working four days instead of five, entirely offsetting the loss of one working day. Meanwhile at Microsoft Japan, productivity increased by a staggering 40 per cent, meaning even more was being done than in five days.

Another interesting study was conducted in 2019 by the University of Reading, finding that business leaders who had swapped to a four-day week reported improvements in staff productivity, with employees who were happier, less stressed and taking fewer days off sick. Crucially, two thirds of firms also found it made it easier for them to recruit and retain staff.

A lengthy trial in Iceland from 2015-2019 bore similar results, being deemed an “overwhelming success”. In the country today, 86 per cent of the workforce are now working shorter hours or being given the right to shorten their hours.

There is also a strong argument that a four-day week benefits the environment, with less pollution, reduced congestion and even decreases in energy consumption and paper usage.

But that is the national picture, what about our own Jewish community? Well, there could be significant benefits for some.

In general, Fridays have always been considered a quieter day so perhaps productivity is already less than the rest of the working week. For the more observant in the community there have always been obvious challenges, especially in the winter when Shabbat comes in very early.

Indeed, for six months a year many communal employers open their offices for half a day so the precedent for condensing the week for some is already in place.

Is our community really going to turn our backs on all the potential benefits a four-day week could bring for the sake of a few hours?

Of course, there are some negatives too.

Businesses, especially the start-ups and small firms we deal with, worry about growth and costs. In these situations, can they really afford to pay people 100 per cent of their salary for 80 per cent of their time?

Workforce planning would also be an issue. It can be hard enough for firms to juggle staffing around holidays and sick days, let alone throwing everyone having one day off a week into the mix.

For external-facing organisations, making sure they have sufficient coverage for clients and customers could be a significant challenge. Especially when, as is likely in our community, it would be the same day most people want to remove from their working week.

However, it is possible all of these things could be overcome.

The most interesting argument against the four-day week is what if the novelty and enthusiasm wear off? If four-day working became the norm, would productivity simply slide back to what it was before?

The only way to answer this, and find out for sure, is to put the theory to the test.

Many working practices that were once controversial – be it shared parental leave or working from home – are considered very much the norm, bringing positive benefits to both employers and employees.

So, is now the time to consider whether a four-day week could actually work?