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The four-day working week: How it may affect the leisure and hospitality sectors

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A sixth-month pilot was recently launched in the UK to test the possible advantages of a four-day working week for both employers and employees. Emily Leeming from Harrison Drury’s employment law team explains what the pilot seeks to achieve and the implications a four-day week may have on the leisure and hospitality sectors.

The six-month pilot is being organised by 4 Day Week Global alongside think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and academic researchers at Cambridge and Oxford universities and Boston College.

It aims to encourage businesses, employees, researchers, and government to “all play their part in creating a new way of working which will improve business productivity, worker health outcomes, stronger families and communities, challenge the gender equality issue, and work towards a more sustainable work environment.”

Participating employers will impose no reduction in pay for employees, based on the 100:80:100 model – 100 per cent of wages for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for 100 per cent productivity.

From the hospitality and leisure sectors, London Brewery, Pressure Drop and Platten’s fish and chips in Norfolk, are among 70 UK companies trialling the four-day working week, by allowing staff to work 32 hours every week while leaving their wages and benefits unchanged.

The question that remains to be answered is whether the four-day week is the solution to an industry badly in need of a break, or whether it will merely increase the pressure on sectors struggling to recruit.

The pros and cons of a four-day working week

In the leisure and hospitality sectors, staff vacancies are high. Indeed, there are more unfilled jobs in hospitality than in any other sector. This has brought staff wellbeing into sharper focus, with the four-day week being discussed as a potential measure to attract people to return to these sectors.

The general theory behind the proposal of a four-day working week is that happier, more fulfilled employees are more focused on their jobs and therefore more productive. It is suggested that having a four-day working week may leave employees with more free time and the chance to improve their work-life balance, thus increasing overall happiness and consequently loyalty to a company.

A four-day working week may not, however, suit every business. It is an option that is only viable for organisations who can re-adapt their business to a new way of working. While the leisure and hospitality sectors have seen their fair share of change over the past few years, the feasibility of a shorter working week is likely to depend on the roles of employees and the nature of the employer’s customer base.

In some customer-facing jobs, where the expectation is coverage during all normal working hours, it may not be possible to offer the four-day working week to employees unless an employer can implement a satisfactory shift-based system. In doing so, the employer will need to ensure it does not have an impact upon the quality of service. Additional staff may also need to be recruited to meet new shift-based roles.

Many businesses in the hospitality sector employ staff to work reactively, such as bar and waiting staff who work according to customer demand. Thus, it is unlikely employees in these roles can retain their productivity levels, when working fewer hours.

One positive angle to note for the leisure and hospitality sectors is that people working a four-day week will have more free time which may create an increase in the demand and usage of leisure and hospitality facilities. However, an increase in demand requires greater staff coverage which, for sectors already facing a recruitment crisis, may not be welcome.

Considerations for employers implementing a four-day working week

The change to a four-day working week creates some practical issues in terms of contractual changes for employers. Employers will need to consider whether the change in working hours is an informal working arrangement or whether it would be considered a change to terms and conditions.

In addition, holiday entitlement may raise potential issues. Employers may elect to reduce the holiday entitlement for employees on a four-day week, in line with the overall reduction in working hours. This may be met with resistance from some employees.

Further, if the basis of the model is that 100 per cent productivity should be achieved, employers would need to consider in some cases how this is measurable and may also need to review internal incentive schemes and arrangements.

For instance, productivity bonus and commission schemes may have to be re-worked to a new base level.

Making the change to a four-day week also brings with it the risk of discrimination claims. Existing part time workers could potentially bring claims for sex discrimination if an employer does not ‘match’ the offer of fewer hours for the same pay – for workers already working part time.

Whatever the industry or sector, employers seeking to move workers to a four-day working week, need to be clear what they are seeking to achieve, that it can be offered fairly, and what are the implications of the change on the business, its customers and operational costs and profits.

If you are an employer considering changing employees over to a four-day week, or you would like to discuss it in more detail, Harrison Drury’s employment law team can provide assistance to help you effectively implement the change. We can also provide advice and support to revise employment contracts, policies and procedures. Contact Harrison Drury’s employment law team on 01772 258321.


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