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  • Writer's pictureSteve Henigan

Is autonomy the argument against a 4 day week?

A week doesn’t go by without the concept of the 4 day working week coming up in one of my conversations. In 2022, 61 organisations in the UK undertook a pilot study, moving to a 4 day work week without a loss of pay. The results suggest that for many organisations (30% made the change permanent), the pilot was successful. I'm not going to debate or even discuss the results, but I want to address what I consider a much more fundamental issue with the 4 day working week: trust and autonomy.

The lockdown illustrated that even in the most traditional organisations, colleagues could maintain productivity (creativity and innovation are very different) while working remotely. During the height of the lockdown, this meant working very flexibly, as many, including myself, juggled homeschooling and caring commitments. We were trusted, adjusted our schedules, and delivered. As the risk of COVID reduced and normality crept back in, the remote working practices (rightly) did not snap back. The majority of organisations have embraced (some somewhat reluctantly!) the new hybrid way of working, and colleagues are still trusted to balance their personal commitments with work without the constraints of a 9-5 pm day.

So, back to the 4 day week. The principle is based on efficiency and the ability to organise oneself and those around us to complete our tasks in a reduced time on a mandated schedule. If an organisation opts that everyone works Monday-Thursday, then I would imagine most organisations would say that personal-related activities need to be undertaken on a Friday. But what happens if this doesn’t work for you? What if (like me) your preference is to have that flexibility across a number of days to support childcare and other personal preferences?

In summary, I am 100% committed to providing a better work-life balance for everyone (including myself!) but I am not convinced that mandating what days people do this is the right approach. As we build on the trust and autonomy that was built during the lockdown, the 4 day week seems very much like a backward step. If as an organisation you want to provide more flexibility and a better work-life balance, the solution is to trust your team to find the balance that works for each of them on an individual basis – trust and autonomy, not organisation-controlled flexibility.

a Group of workers are gatheres around a busy table, all trying to work. In the background are wooden walls and large windows.

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