There is an argument to be made that modern technology has significantly sped up the way we work, and that the five-day week is no longer necessary. For example, cloud HR software means that long-winded spreadsheets are no longer needed and faffing around with paperwork is a thing of the past.

Whilst the five-day week used to be a great model that got the most out of its workers, it was born in an era where factory work was the norm.

In a factory environment of 19th century industrial Britain, a 5 day workweek was ideal. People would get up, go to work, see the fruits of their labour and go home. That was all there was to it. However, with the evolution of technology and the increase in office jobs, the rule that longer hours equals more productivity doesn’t necessarily ring true.

Some companies are trialing the four-day week concept, with hopes to get the same level of output in fewer hours of work.

In countries like New Zealand and Sweden, it has proven successful. However, making this change requires a leap of faith – and one that needs a little research.

The working world has changed, so perhaps it’s time to re-visit how we work?

The four-day week: what's the deal with holiday?

Breathe holiday calculator

One of the first things employees might ask is: how does this affect my holiday entitlement?

An employer can set their own rules on any holidays they give over and above the legal minimum. Leave allowance is calculated simply by multiplying the number of days worked a week by 5.6.

A five-day week entitles 28 days' annual leave a year.

An employee working a four-day week would be entitled to: 4 days x 5.6 weeks = 22.4 days.

So, a four-day week accrues less holiday. However, it does come with some major benefits for both the employee and the employer.

To take the headache out of calculating holiday, we've created our very own Holiday Calculator tool that's completely free to use and very simple. Click here to calculate your employees' holiday in seconds.

Advantages of a four-day week

Reduced costs

A four-day week can reduce costs for everyone. Employers are able to rent smaller workspaces and save money on utility bills. Additionally, employees would be paying less to commute and would see cut costs in expenses like lunch and coffees during the workday too.

Happier employees

Having a three-day weekend leaves employees with more free time. Not many people will complain about that. Having more time to do the things you love generates greater overall happiness and can help to increase loyalty to a company - it’s a win-win.

Fewer health issues

According to Mind, 1 in 6 of us experience mental health problems in any given week. Our 2019 Sick Report found that 37% of UK businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year. 

Having a longer weekend will allow people to spend more time living a healthy and happy life, which will undoubtedly lead to an improvement in wellbeing.

Creating workplace initiatives that help improve employee mental health could mean more productive staff. For example, you may choose to implement a cycle to work scheme or discounted gym membership to encourage an active lifestyle and therefore benefit the mental health of your employees.

Increase in productivity levels

Discontent staff tend to distract their co-workers. The general theory behind a shorter week is that happier, more fulfilled employees are therefore more focused on their job when actually in the workplace.

Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand firm trialled a four day week. The results found that 78% of employees could more effectively balance their work and home life. This was compared to 54% prior to the experiment.

Recruitment and retention

In the age of the millennial, being able to offer a more flexible work pattern is definitely a perk that persuades employees to stay at a company.

The feeling of getting a three-day weekend is one that keeps employees motivated week-on-week. It’s still a relatively rare offering and can be a great incentive to work hard for that company.  

Disadvantages of the 4-day work week

It doesn’t suit every business model

Unfortunately, a four-day week model doesn’t suit every business. It’s an option that is only viable companies who can re-adapt their whole business.

Longer hours and work related stress

In reality, most employees on a four day week will most likely be expected to work the same 40-hour weeks, but in four days instead of five. In this case, shifts might be extended to 10-hours – something that obviously has its limitations. For example, longer days might actually have an inverse effect regarding work-related stress issues.

How best to structure the workplace

It remains to be seen whether a 4-day week is the solution to the changing 21st century workplace or not. What is certain is that companies will have to keep an open mind about how to structure the working week in order to accommodate increasing technological capacities and a social attitude that places a great importance on the wellbeing of the employee.

Breathe Sick report 2019