Has the time come for a four-day working week?

The introduction of a four-day working week could have unintended adverse implications for recruiters, employers and workers alike, lawyers have warned.

This week the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called on government to take action to enable people to work fewer days but remain on the same wages. The federation of trade unions in England and Wales argued a four-day working week would be possible during this century if businesses are required to share the benefits of evolving technology with their staff.

But Stephen Jennings, partner & solicitor at law firm Tozers Solicitors, told Recruiter the TUC’s proposal would represent a “mixed bag” for recruitment agencies.

“On the face of it, with fewer working hours to cover and a focus on allowing more time off (rather than, say, higher pay), agencies could find themselves worse off. 

“However, there may be opportunities as well; staff used to working four-day weeks may be less willing/able to provide necessary cover on other days, and in combination with a general tendency for employers to be more open to flexible working, employees may experience an increasing need for agency cover to ensure continuous cover. 

“Agencies who specialise in placing more technologically-minded employees may also find they command an increasing premium, as technology becomes increasingly important.”

Turning to employers, Jennings added he thought most would exercise caution in introducing these changes.

“Most private sector employers would take some persuading to agree to a four-day working week – especially while their competitors remain working five days.”
 
Richard Woodman, partner in the London employment team at Royds Withy King, agreed, adding employers may need a lot of convincing that AI and technological developments can create a sufficient economic benefit to achieve a four-day week, while such a move would prove impossible for some sectors.

“It is difficult to see how the NHS, GP surgeries and healthcare providers could currently accommodate a four-day working week when already stretched. And the same could be said of retail and hospitality, where the demand for 24-7 service is unlikely to diminish,” Woodman told Recruiter.

“Some employees will fear that a move to a four-day week would just mean them having to somehow manage to fit five days’ work into just four – and that could prove to be stressful, resulting in increased sickness and absences.”

But agency bosses Recruiter has spoken to claim a four-day week in the recruitment sector could be possible, so long as consultants continue to hit targets.

Peter Searle, executive chairman at global workforce solutions provider Airswift, told Recruiter the real issue here was flexible working and this was definitely possible so long as consultants work around their candidates and making sure they are available when needed.

“Everyone has downtime – it’s just about companies providing flexibility to allow workers to have a better work-life balance. Every organisation can fulfil that obligation but in our industry, of course, most of the people that work in it work on a targeted basis and it would be down to them to make sure they achieve the required targets they wanted to achieve. If they can do their job in four days, the company should be flexible enough to allow it.”

While Tony Goodwin, chairman and CEO at Antal International, told Recruiter he feels a good recruiter works almost 24/7, the success of such a proposal would rest on how effective they are. 

“We’re all up for flexible working but what I can tell you is that some of our returnee women, who have had children, are often more effective in their time than maybe they were before or even more effective than some of the men.

“It’s about effectiveness. I wouldn’t be against that kind of flexibility because what I’m seeing is if you work smartly, I have seen recruiters, who probably do a four-hour day, doing better than people who do a 10 hour day, who are focused on the wrong things.”

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