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Bank holidays in May intensified workload for 67% of employees

Four-day weeks taken for the three bank holidays in May increased 67% of employees' workloads despite them benefitting from the extra time off, according to a survey from Liverpool Business School.

According to the research, exclusive to HR magazine, half (51%) of employees said they were slightly or significantly more productive during the four-day week following a bank holiday.  

These are initial findings as the survey will be ongoing during additional bank holidays. 

Hannah Wilson, senior lecturer at Liverpool Business School who worked on the study, said bank holiday working weeks have mixed results for employees.  

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Whilst employees described benefiting on a personal level as a result of the additional time off, this had consequences in the workplace including a more intense working week, and a pressure (real or perceived) to ‘cram’ five days’ work into four.” 

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Clara Wilcox, parental career coach at The Balance Collective, said the bank holidays effectively provided a trial for the four-day week. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “The month of May has provided a fantastic trial – the four-day week as business standard.  

“For many sectors and roles, we have been shown the power of output-based working and agile diaries.” 

Though workload pressures seemingly increased, employees also said the reduced working weeks in May made them feel more rested and relaxed and improved work/life balance 

In their extra time off, 85% spent additional time with friends and family and 56% spent time on activities related to their health and wellbeing. 

Wilson argued workload could be a trade-off many are willing to make for more leisure time. 

She added: “Previous research into four-day weeks has highlighted the potential for work intensification and this is an issue with flexible work in general.  

“However, it has also been found that this is a trade-off that employees are often prepared to make, given they value flexible working so highly.” 

Wilcox said: “These three bank holidays have provided rest and opportunities for social and emotional connection; this helps everyone have the energy and capacity to be their best at work.” 

Challenges experienced included the need to condense five days’ work into four, as many employees found their overall workload did not change as a result of the reduced hours.  

For 43% of employees, this led to working longer hours on the other working days and a more intense working week. 

Wilson said employers need to be aware of the stress and anxiety this could cause. 

She said: “Some forms of the four-day week expressly involve employees being required to maintain a ‘normal’ (generally five-day week) level of productivity. As this survey highlights, this may lead to stress and additional pressure. 

“Employers who are considering implementing a four-day week would need to give careful consideration to how they can do so without negatively influencing employee health and wellbeing.” 

Wilcox said the key for successful four-day weeks is communication between employees and management. 

She said: “HR teams should make sure to set realistic expectations about what a four-day week looks like. Do you want a condensed five days over four or a pro-rata week? 

“It is also important to set expectations with colleagues, suppliers, and clients about availability and make it clear it is non-negotiable.”