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As UK call centre trials 4-day working week – business owners ask “will it work?”

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It does seem, on the surface, something that’s just too good to be true: by giving ourselves an extra day off each week, we could look forward to feeling more relaxed and productive.

So, is a four-day working week a course of action that employers across the UK should be embracing, or is it an unworkable fantasy?

More and more organisations lately have fancied putting the idea to the test.

One of the UK’s leading charities, the Wellcome Trust, consulted on it only to eventually decide against it, citing a range of factors – not least the difficulty of offering it equitably to all staff, given the diversity of roles in the organisation.

One company that has said it will go ahead with trialling the concept, however, is insurance specialist Simply Business, which – as reported by The Guardian – has announced that it will try switching its hundreds of call-centre staff from a 37.5-hour to a 30-hour week with no loss of pay.

An effort to relieve the “intense” pressure on call-centre operators

Call centres have often been referred to as the factories of the 21st century, and the numbers certainly back up that suggestion, with the around 6,200 call centres across the UK employing almost 1.3 million people.

However, the “intense” nature of call-centre work has also been acknowledged, including by Simply Business, which has expressed its hope that the change could be beneficial to staff wellbeing.

Debs Holland, the call centre’s general manager, commented: “Working in our contact centre is really hard.

You have very little autonomy. In the rest of the business, people have significant flexibility. I believe we should create a world where they have the advantage we have.

“This is about sharing the upside with our people and creating a workplace which is as great as it can be.”

But there are mixed views of the concept

Simply Business is not the first company to give the four-day working week a go – in fact, a string of British firms have already done so.

Back in 2016, for instance, the Glasgow-based Pursuit Marketing adopted a four-day week for 120 staffers, and has since claimed that it fuelled a 30% increase in productivity.

However, there has been much more scepticism elsewhere. LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari, for instance, has dismissed it as “an insane notion”, while the Labour Party recently asked Lord Skidelsky to look more closely at the concept.

Call centres are working to enhance employee wellbeing. Photo Supplied

A researcher on the project, Rachel Kay, has acknowledged the complexity involved in adopting a four-day week, saying it could work better in task-focused sectors where employers don’t need personnel to be available all of the time, but not necessarily so much in industries that call for presenteeism, such as retail.

Then, there is the question of whether simply reducing people’s working hours is even the key to unlocking the UK’s persistent ‘productivity puzzle’ that sees it lag behind other countries in this regard, despite its citizens working more hours.

From strengthening support for workers in high-pressure environments, right through to refinements in workplace design as practised by experts in this field such as those of Maris.

There are a lot of things that organisations can potentially do to bolster productivity at the same time as preserving and enhancing employee wellbeing.

A four-day working week, then, could be one solution for some workplaces that lend themselves especially well to the concept – but there is a persistent suspicion that it won’t necessarily be the ‘silver bullet’ for all firms and workers.

 
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