A four-day working week is great for some, but not for all

Iceland, Belgium, and now the UK. Four-day working week trials are becoming increasingly popular as we start to challenge the rigid five-day working week that we have embraced for decades. These shifts to a four-day working week are huge statements, and they are firmly putting a flexible foot forwards, at least on the surface. 

A four-day week is brilliant in principle and a big step forwards for the 87% who want to work flexibly following the pandemic.

But for those who are cramming work around school hours, or who have disabilities, or long-term illnesses, and those with caring responsibilities, mental health challenges, menopause highs and lows - the four-day week is as inflexible as it is flexible. 

More on the four-day week:

The four-day week – does it really work?

Four-day week needs careful planning to succeed

Does a four-day week undermine true flexibility?

Flexible working in its truest sense negates the need for flexible working requests. An inherently flexible environment from the top-down has no fixed hours or location and instead focuses on deliverables and outputs. This means that going down to a four-day working week will be brilliant for some people, but not for others.

In a poll with my Flexible Working People community, I asked if a four-day working week was the flexibility they needed, and out of 747 responses, 30% said that this wasn’t the flex that would work for them.

The reasons given were that this was biased for people without children (given the long hours) and that having a hybrid working pattern was more important to them now. 

It’s important to recognise and celebrate that it has never been a more exciting time for flexible working. We are living at a time where companies are ripping up and rewriting their flexible working rule books.

We know that flexible working can be life-changing; it can let people into work who couldn’t work otherwise. It’s the number one way that we will close the gender pay gap, and it’s a way that we can genuinely challenge inclusivity and diversion in the workplace.

It also has significant business benefits. Research from CIPD tells us that when people work flexibly, they are more loyal to the company, report greater job satisfaction, and can generate more revenue (43%) because they are more engaged vs less engaged staff (20%).

It also reduces absence rates as people with long-term health conditions and caring responsibilities can better manage these and work effectively. It’s the number one motivator in the workplace (89%), more so than financial incentives (77%), and working flexibility can also reduce staff turnover. 

There is so much to be gained from flexible working. A four-day working week is longed for by so many, and it could have such an incredible impact on the workplace and people’s lives.

Recognising that we can work fewer days and be more productive is great, but not at the cost of flexible working designed around individuals and teams.


Katy Fridman is founder of Flexible Working People