The 5-day working week has been a traditional structure for almost two centuries. But is it time for a shake-up? In the internet era, many employees are working longer hours and finding it harder to switch off – and wellbeing organisations argue that a four day working week is needed to prevent professional burn out.

Early trials have shown that, managed effectively, companies can reduce employee contracts without affecting output. And shift planning software is helping businesses to increase flexibility, in order to achieve a healthier work/life balance. Let’s take a closer look...

Why do we work a five-day week?

Historically, the working structure hasn’t always been Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Religious practices have always ringfenced Sunday as a day of rest, but during the industrial revolution, artisan professionals adopted regular ‘Saint Mondays’ for drinking, dancing and merriment.

The modern weekend movement began in the 1840s, when trade unions began lobbying the government to grant manufacturing staff leisure time every Saturday afternoon. As well as explaining the productivity benefits of a two-day break, they marketed Saturday as a time for ‘respectable recreation’, to end the drunken brawling that often occurred on Saint Mondays.

The arts, culture and sports industries quickly saw the benefits of standardising Saturday as a day off and started scheduling theatre productions and football matches on a Saturday afternoon. The 1.5-day break gradually extended to become the two-day weekend that’s now part of our professional fabric.

Why are we moving to a four-day work week?

The internet era is great for keeping in touch… but not so good for switching off. Many employees work long hours as emails flood their inbox, day and night.

Some companies are switching to a four day working week to recalibrate their team’s work/life balance and reduce the chance of burnout. And early adopters have shown that it’s possible to maintain productivity on fewer working hours.

New Zealand estate planning firm, Perpetual Guardian, reduced stress levels by 7% and increased employee commitment by 20% when it dropped down to four days a week, without any noticeable impact on output.

Closer to home, global marketing firm Awin has moved its staff to a four-day week – including 300 people based in the UK – moving measurement from hours put in to result achieved.

The four day movement has even gathered support at national level. Spain recently agreed to trial a short working week, while Nicola Sturgeon has promised that the SNP will release funding to help companies reduce staff hours.

What are the pros and cons of a four day working week?

We’ve covered some of the benefits of offering staff more time off – stress, productivity and loyalty being the main three – but it’s important to consider the pitfalls as well.

Reducing contracted hours by 20% is a major leap, and it needs to be managed carefully to make sure shorter schedules don’t impact productivity. For example, employers need to choose whether to do a full office shut down one day a week, or encourage staff to take different days off, to keep the business open across five days.

If companies opt to spread out time off, it’s important that critical tasks can still be covered by a reduced workforce. One of the simplest ways to manage this is through task management software, as each employee’s schedule can be treated like a rota, with key duties assigned to them whenever they are available to work.

Working shorter but smarter

The 4-day work week concept is gathering momentum, as companies realise that shorter schedules help them to work smarter, benefiting employee performance and overall productivity. And with thinktank, Autonomy, appealing to Rishi Sunak to back this movement as a way of minimising unemployment following the pandemic, the structural revolution could arrive sooner than we think.

But businesses that can see the benefits of greater workplace flexibility need to think carefully before reducing hours. There will always be logistical challenges to changing schedules; investing in shift planning software ensures that workload is still covered, so a four day working week boosts the bottom line.

Increase your flexible working capabilities with shift planning software from WhosOffice. Book your free trial to get started.

Overview of WhosOffice


Try WhosOffice for free before you sign up – no credit card required


We offer telephone and email support to our customers, at no extra cost


Cancel when you like with just 30 days’ notice


We don’t believe in add-on charges or set-up fees

Book your Free WhosOffice Trial