DISCUSSIONS are taking place on how Scotland will test the model of a four-day working week, the Sunday National can reveal. 

The design of a pilot scheme is being worked on following a pledge in the SNP manifesto for a £10 million fund to allow companies to explore the benefits of a shorter week.

It comes after the world’s largest ever test of a four-day week in the public sector in Iceland was reported to be an “overwhelming success”.

The trial, which took place between 2015 and 2019 and included more than 2500 workers, found productivity remained the same or improved in most organisations.

And more workplaces have recently announced a move to a four-day week, including the Michelin-starred restaurant The Cellar, in Fife, and charity YWCA Scotland.

Joe Ryle (below), spokesperson for the 4 Day Week campaign, said: “Not only is the four-day week good for wellbeing in terms of better mental health, less stress and overwork, it is also good for companies through better productivity.

The National:

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“Quite frankly it is ridiculous we are still wedded to this 9-5 five day working week model, which came about based on the 1930s/1940s industrial economy. The economy has been completely transformed since then, but yet across the world the 9-5 working week is the norm.”

The idea of the four-day week has been around since the 1970s, but the Covid pandemic has brought renewed interest in exploring more flexible ways of working. Trials of shorter weeks are also being run in Spain and by Unilever in New Zealand.

However not everyone is convinced – there have been concerns raised over workers having to cram in more work and longer hours in fewer days, and potential loss of earnings.

But Ryle said there was confusion with the idea of “compressed hours” – such as working 40 hours in a four day week instead of five.

“That is not a solution – that may be better for some people but it is not solving the problems of overwork, burnout and stress as you have then got four really long days,” he said.

“We campaign for a four day, 32-hour working week with no reduction in pay.”

He welcomed the move by the Scottish Government to support companies to pilot a four-day week and said conversations were under way to work out exactly how the £10m fund will be used. We are hoping to have meetings with them over the next couple of weeks to work out exactly how that is going to roll out,” he added.

YWCA Scotland, The Young Women’s Movement, a charity which challenges gender inequality, has just moved to a four-day week, with no reduction in salaries or annual leave.

CEO Dr Patrycja Kupiec said the move had been planned for more than a year, but was given added impetus by the “blurring” of work and personal life during Covid lockdown.

“We have realised this is one of the principles of building back together – being more flexible in our approach to work,” she said.

“This was the best model we could find based on our research in terms of supporting employees’ wellbeing and supporting people who have caring responsibilities which mainly tends to be women still.

“We’ve also just published our Status of Young Women in Scotland research, and what came through really strongly from this report was young women asking more flexibility to fit with their life circumstances, with caring responsibilities, to support their mental health and wellbeing.

“We decided we are an organisation for young women, this is what young women are asking for – we should be leading by example and this is what we should do.”

The four-day week came into operation at YWCA Scotland last week, and the team of seven staff will work Monday to Thursday, with flexibility to change if needed.

Kupiec said it was not expected to have any impact on the services the charity provides and there would be regular evaluations carried out to ensure the new model was having a positive impact on employees.

“We really don’t want it to turn into working 10 hours every day, instead of working eight hours,” she said.

“That would be compressed hours – that is why we will assess wellbeing of staff at each of the stages of three, six and 12 months.

“There are a lot of studies that support that notion that people get more productive – rather than working more, there is less procrastinating.”

Edinburgh-based software company Administrate introduced a four-day week in 2015, paying employees a full-time wage for 32 hours a week. Most of the company work Monday to Thursday, while some staff work Tuesday to Friday to provide coverage all week.

Jen Anderson, head of people operations at Administrate, said one of the reasons for trialling it was an awareness that start-up tech companies are notorious for “churning through employees with long hours and a lack of balance.”

She said there had been no negative impact in productivity and staff valued having the extra time.

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“You do not find people cruising social media during work because people know they only have four days to make their contribution,” she said.

“Work time is focused and more efficient since we are more limited in common work hours.”

Anderson said keeping internal meetings to a minimum was among the measures taken to support the shorter week, but there were times when staff had to work longer hours or on days off during busy periods.

She added: “Where this happens we always look to understand why – for example resourcing issues, mismanagement of projects – and make sure we have a plan to get things back to normal.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As we recover from the pandemic, we want to do more to help people achieve a healthy work-life balance. As part of this, we are committed to establishing a £10 million fund to allow companies to pilot and explore the benefits of a four-day working week.

“We are working on the design of the pilot and an announcement will be made in due course.

“The length of the working week is one aspect of a broader set of measures about how we rebuild the economy in a way that benefits everyone.”