Legal development

Spare a Thought for the Four Day Week

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    As we head into Easter weekend - and with several more bank holidays on the horizon - it begs the question of whether the four-day work week could ever be rolled out across the financial sector on a more permanent basis.

    Earlier this year, 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit organisation founded by Andrew Barnes, reported its findings on the UK's trial of the four-day work week, which ran from June to December 2022. The findings suggest that a four-day week significantly reduces employee stress and burnout and helps with worker retention, without a corresponding drop in productivity. 56 of 61 participating companies confirmed that they intended to continue with the revised model after the pilot.

    Of the 61 companies which took part, five were from the finance and insurance sector. This is in addition to Atom Bank which implemented a four-day week last year after its own trial and has since reported a 49% increase in applications.

    The Four Day Week – can it work in high-intensity sectors?

    COVID-19 disrupted the traditional working and resourcing models which have prevailed in the financial sector and professional services since at least the 1980s. Employers have sought to address the departure of top talent – the so-called 'Great Resignation' – with the introduction of flexible working policies, competitive non-monetary benefits, and initiatives such as the Mindful Business Charter.

    Some of the changes that we have seen since COVID-19 were inconceivable even a few years ago. Yet it remains to be seen whether the four-day week could be widely implemented in highly regulated and competitive sectors which have traditionally relied on round-the-clock service and long employee hours.

    FCA guidance

    For FCA-regulated firms there is the additional consideration of whether the four-day week is compatible with their ability to meet their regulatory responsibilities. In October 2021 the FCA first published its expectations for firms deploying remote or hybrid working. It has continued to update these regularly as new working models have developed.

    The key takeaway from the FCA's guidance is that flexible working policies "should not risk or compromise the firm's ability to follow all rules, regulatory standards and obligations, or lead to a failure to meet them."

    Global momentum for the four-day week continues to grow and it seems likely that more financial institutions will experiment with the model in the coming years. Whether or not it takes off on a wider scale will depend on the response of clients and the ability of employers and employees to adapt to the change. Here at Ashurst we have taken our first steps with some partners and colleagues adopting the four-day week. So far so good. Will you be next?


    Authors: James Levy, Partner; Catherine Lillycrop, Junior Associate

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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