Noura Dadzie explains some further research into the four-day work week and its potential impact on working parents.
Our collective working lives have changed immensely over the past few years. The Covid pandemic forced a shift in working patterns for many, who unexpectedly found themselves working from home. This unprecedented wholesale shift to being home-based offered something many parents had never before experienced — more time spent with their children.
Traditionally, many parents have been required to work long hours to support a family, frequently resulting in limited hours spent raising their growing children, time reserved only for bedtimes and weekends. Inevitably, this has an impact on parents’ wellbeing. When Covid hit, working parents were suddenly around for breakfast, playtime, bedtime – enjoying a greater impact on their children’s lives and benefiting from an increased connection.
However, there were two sides to this coin. Balancing work with full-time childcare – because most schools were closed for a period of time during the pandemic – caused difficulty for many. Therefore, the four-day work week, combined with flexible working, could be a mutually beneficial solution for working parents and businesses alike.
More broadly, across society, we’ve been looking for better work-life balance. So much so, that the push towards a four-day week has been gaining momentum in the past year, with concrete steps being taken to discover its viability. A six-month trial began in the UK earlier this year, with encouraging preliminary results.
Even just halfway through the trial, in which employees of participating companies were given one paid day between Monday and Friday each week, the majority of businesses have reported that they are likely to keep the four-day work week after the pilot finishes. Benefits cited have included both increased productivity and improved employee morale.
In light of the trial, Talent.com surveyed more than 1,300 employees across the UK to learn about their attitudes towards the four-day work week.
We asked what benefits are important to employees when selecting a role, with over half (52%) citing the ability to choose their own schedule as a priority. Whilst this is a benefit to many, for parents it could represent the opportunity to facilitate the necessary pickups and drop-offs and appointments, but more broadly to attend sporting events or school shows.
When asked what the prospect of a four-day work week represented, 82% of respondents answered with a “better work-life balance” – a constant struggle for many working parents. When interrogating what employees would use their additional time for, over a third (36%) said “more time for childcare or family caregiving”, and an overwhelming majority (71%) responded with “more rest”. A clear demonstration that for working families, the current structure could be better moulded to support workers’ needs.
Importantly, the four-day week is something for which respondents would compromise, with a majority of workers (56%) willing to work longer daily hours – up to 10 hours a day – if it enabled them to work a four-day week. Although longer working days may not be conducive to childcare responsibilities in many cases, the long-term impact of working longer hours for a reduced work week should be explored and this initial willingness should be seriously considered by companies looking to improve the wellbeing of their employees.
One crucial finding was that most respondents (64%) were not willing to take a pay cut. This is unsurprising, given the current cost-of-living crisis. A yearly salary increase was still important to 76% of respondents. This could suggest that fewer working days would benefit those who are forced to choose between working and expensive childcare.
At the same time, we are living in an inflationary environment, and companies may exacerbate the problem by responding to demands for increased pay. This is where offering staff time off – to achieve the leisure and family time they crave – could be the answer.
If the four-day work week trials conclude in the manner with which they began, with positive impacts on both productivity and employee wellbeing, we could find ourselves well on the way to a new working environment. One which makes work accessible for people with childcare responsibilities by greatly alleviating stress, reducing the financial burden of childcare, and offering more quality time with children.