Last week Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, an associate professor of economics and strategy at the University of Oxford spoke of the benefits a four day working week. At its annual conference, the Trades Union Congress also called for a four day working week to be implemented by 2100.
Those who advocate a shortened week believe that employees will benefit from a better work/life balance, with long working hours becoming a distant memory. Employees would have the same work load, and receive the same pay, but be more productive to ensure that the required work is carried out in a shorter period. Advances in technology have been cited as key to this development.
The working pattern could also in theory result in a reduction to unemployment figures as job share arrangements could become more popular.
Numerous studies have suggested that happier employees make more productive employees, and that workforces also feel more of a commitment to the employer under such working conditions. The approach could therefore also decrease staff turnover.
Those who oppose the shorter working week suggest that change will actually result in additional stress on certain employees, who may already be struggling with their work load. It is also suggested that there needs to be more research to evidence whether an increase in productivity is actually achieved.
Perpetual Guardian, based in New Zealand, put the theory to test by permitting employees to opt into a 4 day working week. The company has hailed the project a success, reporting a clear increase in productivity, and is now rolling the option out on a full time basis.
Although employees do have currently have a right to request a reduction in hours, via a flexible working request, these can be refused in some circumstances, and is usually accompanied by a reduction in pay.
A change to a four day working week also throws up a significant number of employment law questions, such as whether the approach would have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact upon employees who suffer from some forms of disability, whether the employer has a contractual right to make the change, and what happens if an employee refuses to alter the working week.
Regardless of whether you are for or against the change, it is clear that there are a number of hurdles to overcome before a shorter working week becomes commonplace in the UK.
"I would argue the four-day working week is spot on in terms of finding or striking that right balance between improving the work-life balance and unlocking the happiness potential from that in terms of productivity gains.