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Could the four-day work week work for the planning profession?

Published on: 2 May 2023

A three-day weekend sounds like catnip for planners and those who work with them, but they might just be setting themselves up for a more stressful week.

4 day weekThe idea of a four-day work week, which has been making the headlines recently, is a relatively new one, you may think. But the concept was coined by English social reformer Robert Owen, who in 1817 advocated for shorter workdays. 

In those days, the working day ranged from 10 to 16 hours, and Owen’s concept got little support. A century later in 1926, industrialist Henry Ford’s factories became one of the first workplaces in the US to formally implement a 40-hour, five-day working week.

The five-day week has been the norm for planners since then, but in June last year the UK began a four-day work week trial with 3,300 employees at 70 companies taking part in this landmark six-month experiment.

The trial was organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with the think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Boston College.

Increased productivity

It was based on the 100:80:100 model – which means 100 per cent of pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100 per cent productivity.

4 Day Week Global said the four-day week “has been proven to deliver increased productivity in businesses all over the world in a broad range of industries”. 

Research by Hays Recruitment seems to concur with this as it says most firms think the four-day week is a “good idea”.

In the Hays research, 89 per cent of those surveyed said the four-day week helped employee mental health and wellbeing while 59 per cent said it improved organisational productivity and efficiency and 44 per cent said it helped to attract new talent as well as retention.

However, the trial didn’t prove successful for Mark Roderick’s engineering and industrial supplies company Allcap, which abandoned the experiment two months early.

More stress?

Roderick said: “As opposed to 10 normal workdays, we found that employees would have nine extreme ones – once they got to their scheduled day off they were exhausted. Once we factored in holidays, sickness and caring responsibilities, we also struggled to find cover for an employee on their rest day.”

Indeed, exhaustion seems to be a pitfall of the four-day week, with employees facing more stressful workdays. 

A report from the 4 Day Week Campaign has called for trials of a four-day, 32-hour working week for NHS staff to boost job retention. Whereas Roderick’s employees reported exhaustion in working four days, the NHS could benefit from this model, leading to better care for patients and increased job retention within the industry. 

The four-day week seems like a great idea on paper for the planning profession, when you consider the three-day weekends. But this will not work for everyone – so finding the right balance for this particular profession would be key to success in the future.