Working a four-day week is the dream for many. What’s not to like about an extra day off to do chores or spend time on your hobbies or with family?
In fact, there is even talk that it could be the future of the UK’s typical working week. A six-month trial is currently taking place by around 70 companies that have put their employees on a shorter week for no reduction in wages. The aim is to see whether workers can be just as productive working four days rather than five, while benefiting from a better work-life balance.
Even if you aren’t one of the lucky ones working for a company that offers a four-day week for full pay, you still have a legal right to request a four-day week (although employers can refuse the request). If they agree, you’ll likely either have to accept a reduction in your wages, or work more hours across the four days to make up for the lost working day.
While we often associate part-time working with parents or carers, there are many who don’t have caring responsibilities but simply want a better work-life balance.
Nevertheless, there are downsides to going part-time. Some feel they had little choice but to cut their hours for family obligations while others say their colleagues do not understand the working arrangement and they are frequently contacted on their day off.
Karolina Throssell, a freelance PR based in Kent, says she switched to a four-day week while working at a PR agency so she could spend more time with her son. But her company made her feel that working part-time was not something she should shout about.
“I was told not to mention to one of my clients that I worked part-time because she might think less of me,” she says. “That conversation then made me feel like I couldn’t be honest with clients and let them know I didn’t work Fridays.
“So I wouldn’t put an out of office on and then felt like I had to check emails and respond.”
Flexible working consultancy Timewise says no one should feel short-changed for working part-time. But it says many employers are still behind the curve at putting flexible working arrangements in place, and then sticking to them.
“The issue is when people are working more hours than they are paid for. This is something which is common for traditional part-timers who have moved to working four days instead of five. Their pay is cut accordingly, but without any adjustment to their workload,” says Emma Stewart, co-founder of Timewise.
Jeanette Forder, 57, used to work a four-day week as a senior civil servant but left in December 2020 to launch her own business after she says her workload became unmanageable.
Her role as an HR business partner for HMRC meant she led a team of nine people and she sat on the cross-government HR Capability Board with a number of other senior civil servants.
Forder was granted permission to work a four-day week – Tuesday to Friday – in May 2020, so she could spend more time with her husband and because her health had deteriorated while going through menopause.
But she found that while her pay had reduced, her workload had not and she says she was still expected to cram in as much work as she did while working full-time.
“Other staff didn’t appreciate or accept that I did not work on a Monday. They often asked me to change my working days (at late notice) or to work on my non-working day.
“I spent many times correcting their thoughts and language as they referred to Monday as my ‘day off’, which wasn’t correct as I wasn’t paid to work that day so it wasn’t a day off.”
Forder, who lives in Kent, resigned seven months later and says she hasn’t regretted her choice. She now runs Phoenix Wellness Coaching, an online women-only life coaching company specialising in helping women going through menopause.
“I recognise that I had to go through the pain of part-time working until I could get to the right place for me. But it was surprising that despite working in HR, my team couldn’t make it work or set an example for other businesses.”
Siobhan Maher used to work four days a week as head of accounts for a fine jewellery manufacturer. She switched to a four-day week after having her daughter, opting to take Wednesdays off so she could spend more time at home.
But while her employer was supportive of her working arrangement, she felt that working part-time stunted her career growth.
Maher was one of the very few people on a four-day week and she says her team and work projects were still structured for a five-day week.
“Many of the ‘extras’ that were so important to my job, such as getting out of the office for immersive market research, were sidelined,” she says.
“There was little room for training and development, or anything beyond my team and client responsibilities. I knew this would make professional growth harder to achieve.”
Maher, 36, left the company in 2019 and now works as a self-employed copywriter for jewellery brands. She feels she is able to better manage her workflow to include time for development and planning, which is allowing her career to advance at a faster pace.
Not everyone has a bad experience of working part-time.
Fiona Gray, marketing director at Glasgow-based digital agency Equator, has worked a four-day week for almost a decade. She works Tuesday to Friday, on a pro-rata salary, and says a four-day week has not impacted her work or career.
She says: “There are negative connotations with not being available when required or that something will be missed as a result of not working a ‘full’ week.
“For me it has all been about planning, communication and visibility. I’ve worked with a number of high-profile clients and have never had any issues with my working days.
“It actually makes me more productive with the time I do have and more determined to deliver high-quality campaigns and results.
“I think a four-day week is the perfect balance for work and personal life.”