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What does the four-day week mean for rural communities?

  • by JW

The four-day week is made permanent for most UK firms in the world’s biggest trial.

“Are four-day weeks a good or a bad thing? And how doable are they in rural areas? The evidence so far suggests it may work well for some and never work for others.” [Jessica’s Rural Words]


Looking for 4 Day Week Jobs (32hrs @ 100% salary)? as there are more and more remote positions out there. 

Back in 2022, the biggest four-day week pilot anywhere in the world took place. The results are now out, with the 4 Day Week Campaign having just completed its pilot programme. 

The FT reports how businesses are managing the four-day week, with 54 of the 61 participating organisations continuing the flexible pattern. The Guardian reiterates that the four-day week is made permanent for most UK firms in the world’s biggest trial, with further positive feedback – and interestingly, the government provided the comment that they will be bringing in changes to their flexible working legislation in April, “including the right to request flexible working from day 1 of a new job”. And this pilot has indeed been big, with CNN reporting that the four-day work week is here to stay at UK companies that tried it.

However, is such a working pattern right for rural areas? In East Anglia, the issue has become rather politicised, with South Cambridgeshire council keeping the four-day week amid a government threat only today. As for the West Country, the VGS news pages have regularly looked at how the four day week might work in these parts.

Also out this week is a report from the excellent Jessica Sellick in her Jessica’s Rural Words blog – where she asks When five becomes four – does a shorter working week benefit rural areas? Here’s an excerpt:

People in the UK work some of the longest hours in Europe and yet our productivity lags behind. With the four-day week gaining traction, what does it mean for rural communities? 

What does it mean for rural communities? There is no evidence base documenting how widespread the four-day week is in rural areas in England. There are examples of rural organisations piloting a four-day week. For example, South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) has been trialling a four-day week since January 2023 to help them attract and keep colleagues, to fill vacant posts rather than relying on more expensive agency staff, and to reduce costs. The Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge independently reviewed the trial after 3-months. Researchers looked at different service areas such as planning, housing, corporate services and finance. They found 9 out of the 16 service areas showed substantial improvement, and the remaining 7 areas were either at similar levels or saw a slight decline. 

There are calls from other sectors to implement a four-day week to boost workforce recruitment and retention, particularly in rural areas (e.g. health, hospitality and cateringlogistics). Indeed Agricultural Recruitment Specialists have looked at whether the four-day week is beneficial for the farming industry. While noting that farming is different from corporate jobs (e.g. dependency on nature/weather, livestock and crops need looking after 365 days a year), technological advancements, automation and drones are reducing the amount of manual labour needed on farms. With many farmers working an average of 65 hours a week, and 40% of farmers surveyed by Farmers Weekly wanting to know how to improve their work-life balance, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists suggest the four-day week could be an asset to the farming world...

Where next? In February 2022 the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales published a report on the four-day week from Autonomy. This considered the arguments for and against a shorter working week, the potential barriers the Welsh Government might face and an implementation strategy. There are calls for a pilot to be developed in the devolved public sector and the Welsh Government is working with the Workforce Partnership Council (WPC) and trade unions to look at the issue in more detail. In Scotland the Government formally launched its 4-day week pilot in January 2024 – with around 140 staff at South of Scotland enterprise doing a 32-hour week without loss of pay. In Northern Ireland a study by Hays found 43% of employers would be more likely to consider offering a four-day week if staff spent all of their work days in the office rather than on a hybrid basis. 

The key question is whether people who move to a four-day week can achieve what they were doing over five-days with fewer hours and less time? The results of the pilots are in and they suggest a four-day week is coming (in Wales), starting (in Scotland) and here to stay (in England). Are four-day weeks a good or a bad thing? And how doable are they in rural areas? The evidence so far suggests it may work well for some and never work for others. Watch this space…