The Four Day Working Week: An Option For Law Firms?
- Posted by Laura Lissett
- March 3, 2022
The last few years have created a shift in how we work like never before. Working away from the office became the norm in 2020, with hybrid working being adopted by many last year.
New’ human centric’ ways of working have been a topic of conversation for some time. Iceland was one of the first counties in the world to trial the four-day week between 2015 and 2019.
This took place in trials run by the Reykjavík City Council in Iceland, between 2015 and 2019 to move workers to four-day weeks. Over 2,500 workers were involved across multiple industries.
The trial reports revealed less stressed workers and a lower level of burnout.
Many employees moved from a forty-hour week to thirty-five hours, working longer on the days they did work. Iceland’s working patterns are overseen by a significant union presence who have negotiated different working patterns for over 85% of the population.
Similar trials are now being held in various counties worldwide, including the U.K.
The U.K. Uptake of a Four Day Week
The four-day working week campaign started in earnest as this year began. The Guardian shared that several U.K. companies had signed up to a six-month trial to work a four-day week.
Other companies, including several law firms, have spontaneously changed their working hours.
The organisations in question spread across many sectors, training, telecoms, software, video games producers and medical imaging. All are moving from a forty-hour working week to thirty-two hours without loss of pay.
Academics will facilitate the trial at Oxford and Cambridge plus Boston College in the U.S. and the think tank ‘Autonomy’. The campaign group, 4 Day Week Global, oversees the research project.
Companies taking part in the U.K. study vary from twenty to over a hundred staff.
Let’s explore the rationale behind this move and discuss if this truly is an option for busy law firms across the U.K.
The Evidence For a Four Day Working Week
The four-day campaign cites many reasons why working four days is beneficial for all, and I’ll share them in a second.
However, surprisingly the campaigners haven’t shared that historically our ancestors didn’t work very hard at all. Before capitalism hit the world, we had a lot of leisure time, though, to be honest, not a lot of money!
Daylight drove our working hours alongside regular breaks and, drum roll, an afternoon nap. If you want to read more on this subject, look at this fascinating report on working hours from MIT.
Coming back to today, the four-day campaigners cite many logical reasons to shift the way we work in the U.K., not least the fact that we work longer hours than most of Europe.
In light of what has happened with remote and flexible working, is it time for a review?
The five-day working week was developed over a century ago here in the U.K. when John Boot was the chair of the Boots corporation.
He demonstrated that two days off each week reduced absenteeism and positively affected productivity. Therefore, the weekend became official Boots policy in 1934; maybe as we approach the 90th anniversary of this change, it is time to shift again.
Both employers and employees can experience the benefits of a shorter week.
We all get a better work-life balance. The four-day week can give us time to live happier, more fulfilled lives and allow for those non-work parts of life that often are neglected.
For example, spending time with friends and family, on fitness pursuits or time in nature.
Then, of course, there’s always that life admin that we all have to deal with, like; shopping, cleaning, sorting out the bank, along with the many parenting duties we can experience.
As an employer looks out for higher performance and profits, trials have demonstrated that a shorter working week can increase productivity. A Henley Business School study pre the pandemic found that 250 firms participating in a four-day week saved an estimated £92 billion a year because their employees were happier, less stressed, and took fewer sick days.
Our economy could benefit too, which is undoubtedly needed. Incredibly, the U.K. suffers simultaneously from overwork, unemployment, and underemployment. A four-day week could be an intuitively simple way to rebalance the economy and address many problems.
Productivity is a concern for many. Google how to improve productivity as a critical business driver, and you will find multiple research papers that reveal that working less could be the answer to achieving more.
The Four Day Working Week and Law Firms
We are currently in the grip of a skills shortage in many sectors, especially when it comes to finding legal talent.
We are receiving more role instructions than ever at Clayton legal, and many firms we work with are reviewing their EVP to make their role offer irresistible. If you want to attract dynamic lawyers, could a four-day week work?
A recent post in The Times also suggested that firms keen to embrace flexible working might even be persuaded to abandon the billable hour.
In a post on Legalfutures, the CEO of one law firm in Kent revealed that his 22 strong team had started working a four-day week at the end of 2020, except two customer service staff who worked Friday and took Monday off.
His underlying premise of the four-day week was that productivity gains could be found by reducing or eliminating unproductive time in the traditional five-day week.
He gave as examples “unproductive meetings”, meetings with “too many people who did not need to be there”, unnecessary social conversations or staff spending time sending personal messages or on social media.
All logical observations considering a U.K. study in 2018 had found that up to 40% of workers’ time in a traditional working week was unproductive.
Admittedly moving to a trial of a four-day week would also mean additional work for your firm, at least initially, as you outline the process, including delivering billable hours, customer service and other vital business drivers.
However, it is clear that the world of work is changing for all professional service sectors, including law. The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated changes into where individuals work – is it time to review how, when and how often?
About Clayton Legal
Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability during that time. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal I.T. personnel to Practice Managers.