UK companies without flexible working ‘will struggle to hire over the next five years’

Businesses that don’t embrace flexible working will struggle to hire in the next five years, according to a businessman hoping to run for Tory mayor.

Natalie Campbell, co-CEO of Belu Water, will speak at an inter-party event organized by the 4 Day Week Campaign on Tuesday, when she will release her mini-manifesto.

She said: “I think the world has changed after the pandemic. People absolutely recognize that being visible, being seen at a desk, literally at the desk in front of a screen, does not provide or create a fully productive workforce.”

Under a four-day work week, employees would see their work hours reduced by 20%, bringing them down to about 28 hours a week, with no pay cut.

The 4 Day Week Campaign and various think tanks are calling ahead of the election for parties to back policies that would help provide flexible work patterns for employees.

These include reducing the maximum work week, changing the official flexible working guideline, setting up a fund to support businesses, launching a public sector pilot, and setting up a working time council.

The mini-manifesto argues that British workers have some of the longest full-time working hours in Europe, but the UK still has one of the least productive economies.

Campbell said: “There are multiple reasons why productivity is not where it should be. Not adopting more innovative ways of working definitely helps.”

He added: “I think people have recognized that trying to fit 19th century Industrial Revolution-style ways of working into jobs ranging from the knowledge economy to manufacturing to the care system doesn’t work.

“We need to recognize that people do very different jobs and therefore need work patterns that allow the economy to function in a much more modern and contemporary way.”

Proponents of the four-day week say the five-day 9-5 workweek is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. According to its defenders, the concept of “weekend” was invented more than a century ago, so Britain must update its working hours.

However, critics say a four-day week would mean companies can expect their employees to squeeze the same hours into fewer days.

Joe Ryle, 4 Day Week campaign manager, said: “We live in a country that could be called Burnout Britain. We work some of the longest hours in the world, some of the longest in Europe, while also having one of the least productive economies.

“We have this mindset where so much of our life is defined by work.”

Although no country has fully adopted a four-day week, some are experimenting with one or have policies that allow for flexible working, including South Africa, Belgium, Iceland and Japan.

The shift to flexible working has been suggested more frequently in recent years: the Labor Party included plans for a 32-hour workweek with no loss of pay in its 2019 general election programme.

Campbell said a cultural change was needed. “Ultimately, companies that offer flexibility, that are thinking about new ways to create opportunities for teams to work, both from home for four days in a rotating pattern, will thrive because they have engaged teams that retain people, who are hiring top talent and ultimately being more productive.”

Since December 2022, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been testing a four-day work week for staff employed directly by the party.

A party spokesperson said: “We are continuing to evaluate the findings from the pilot so that they can be shared and leveraged by other parts of the organization, where appropriate.

“The Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling on the Scottish government to come up with long overdue proposals and launch the pilot program it announced in September 2021. It is critical that we do all we can to support fair employment practices and flexible working arrangements.”

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