The pandemic has made a four-day working week more attractive to workers and businesses

COVID-19, lockdowns and a shift to remote working has had a significant impact on organisations’ attitudes towards a shorter working week, new research from Henley Business School has revealed.

The study found that 65% of UK businesses surveyed are now implementing a four-day working week for some, or all, of their staff, compared with 50% who answered a similar survey carried out by Henley in 2019.

Businesses which have introduced a four-day week are already benefiting from significant financial savings, with those surveyed claiming to have saved an estimated £104bn, approximately 2.2% of the UK’s annual turnover.

The new report, titled The four-day week: The pandemic and the evolution of flexible-working, explores the benefits of working fewer days to both organisations and workers, including improved quality of work (64%), the ability to attract and retain the right talent (68%), and employees feeling less stressed at work (78%).

The study is part of an update to the business school’s 2019 report Four Better or Four Worse, which explored the relatively new concept of a four-day working week and the potential financial impacts on businesses. However, the pandemic brought the conversation to the fore in ways the researchers could not have predicted and provided an unexpected testing-ground for flexible working practices which were previously thought to be unattainable.

The research explored what flexible working options were most appealing to employees, with 69% stating that working fewer days for the same pay, while being able to choose which day they took off, was the most attractive option. Rather unsurprisingly, 61% also said they would choose to take Fridays off.

The pandemic has also improved attitudes towards working from home, with 51% of workers supporting a move to home-working, compared with 43% in 2019. The study found a general disdain for commuting among employees’ reasons for wanting to work from home, with 62% stating this as a key reason to choose flexible working, and 27% of employees surveyed even said they would be willing to take a pay cut in order to work from home.