The Four-Day Working Week
30th of May 2019 | Charlie Bailey
More and more companies are deciding to embrace a four-day working week, and the results seem positive. However, could this be realistic practice for law firms in the foreseeable future?
This post highlights the potential benefits and drawbacks of a four-day working week, and how these could apply to law companies in the United Kingdom.
Numerous studies have shown that implementing a four-day working week has led to an increase in productivity. Is this because employees were keen to earn the extra day off? A three-day weekend allows more time for rest, promoting a work-life balance. In turn, this allows employees to feel more refreshed and readier to get on with work in the office.
It has also been shown that a four-day working week can cause teams to work more efficiently together, as there would be less time for gossip and disputes, due to the lower amount of time required to get on with their work. It’s easy to see how this reduction in hours would lead to employees being more engaged and focussed on the tasks that need to be done.
The environment would also benefit, as less commuting would be required. This would allow companies to reduce their carbon footprint by around 20%, as people would only be required in the office 80% of the five-day working week that they typically would need to be, cutting fuel emissions, as well as saving employees money on their commute in terms of fuel cost, or public transport.
Companies would also benefit in terms of a reduction in overhead costs, as bills would be cut due to the office being open less regularly. This means that businesses could save on utilities, allowing more money to be reinvested, retained, or set aside for future business development projects.
If employees are unable to fulfil their work requirements, then a four-day working week is likely to become very cost ineffective very quickly. A two-year trial in Sweden that reduced the working week from 40 hours to 30 hours over the same five-day period found that whilst workers recorded higher satisfaction, this ultimately became too expensive to continue.
In France, it was found that some workers would put in the same hours of work anyway, with the difference being that they were being paid overtime. This also would make a four-day work week more costly for the company, whilst also potentially paying for a third “day off”. This is, for obvious reasons, detrimental to the business.
It’s also worth noting that workers who are paid hourly, as is typical for locum workers, are unlikely to be in favour of working fewer hours per week, due a reduction in their earnings. This is also the case were quotas need to be met in order to maintain profitability. In terms of law firms, this quota would be in terms of clients and billable hours.
What does this mean for law firms?
It depends. You know your organisation better than anyone else. If you rely on quotas to maintain profitability, or have a particularly heavy caseload, then a four-day working week may not be possible without a significant cost. However, if you think it is feasible for your business, then it is more likely that you will reap some benefits in the long-term.
At the end of the day, it depends on how much a company is willing to sacrifice financially in the short-term in order for the company to reap the long-term benefits, as well as the company’s own requirements, culture, and structure. A four-day working week can be beneficial, especially in terms of increased productivity and efficiency, but is unlikely to be immediately financially advantageous.
Many companies offer working from home days and this flexibility is becoming more acceptable in many law firms were lawyers are finding that phone calls and colleague distractions actually mean they lose focus on their work. The solution to a four-day week would be that we work from home on the 5th day which wouldn’t be so detrimental to the workload and would cut down on our carbon footprint, making a real difference to the environment, it’s certainly worth considering.