Why a 4-day week is proving more economical for employees as the cost of living rises
As the cost of living skyrockets, employees are gratefully embracing their companies’ adoption of four-day weeks in order to save money either on child care, food or gas needed for getting to work.
Jack Darracott, web application developer at Leeds-based Marketing Signals, in the U.K., has saved £200 ($230) per week on childcare since the business switched to a four-day-week last month. The only nurseries that offered five-day childcare cost between £70 ($81) to £80 ($93) per day – up to £400 ($463) per week, he stressed. “Going down to a four-day week meant I had more choice in nurseries and [I have now] managed to get one at £50 ($58) per day, costing me around £200 ($231) per week,” added Darracott.
Fuel prices have reached record highs in 2022, with the average price of gas hitting 191.53 per-litre ($2.22) in the U.K. in July, and $5 a gallon in the U.S. in June. The rise in energy costs, coupled with inflation expected to hit 10% in the U.K. this year, also means childcare costs will increase. In the U.S., babysitting and daycare costs have risen by up to 15% since 2019. In the U.K., fresh food prices surged 10.5% in July, while food production costs in the U.S. are estimated to rise by 18% in 2022.
Jenna Walsh, data analyst at affiliate marketing network Awin, based in Northeastern Pennsylvania, has worked a four-day week since January 2021. The organization operates a flexible work model, allowing staff to take one day off per week, or two half days per week, or spread their hours to suit their own schedule. Walsh said that childcare itself can be a full-time salary depending on the individual person’s situation.
“I’ve known friends who have left their career because it made more sense for the family to keep the children at home instead of paying for childcare,” said Walsh. “As the cost of living rises, we can only assume the cost of childcare will also trend upwards. Having flexible working hours has allowed me the fortitude to keep my career and my children cared for.”
Walsh has two children who are in daycare four days instead of five days a week, enabling her to save around $150 a week.
Others are trying to claw back whatever they can on commuting costs, to soften the blow of the rising cost of living. Jordan Lorence, marketing manager at recruitment firm MRL Consulting Group, near Brighton in the U.K., has enjoyed a four-day week since the company adopted it over three years ago. But he remains grateful for the financial gains he’s made as a result of reduced commuting costs – now more than ever.
“I’ve worked out that if I had to drive into the office on Fridays, it would cost me about £500 ($583) extra per year,” he said.
It’s not just fuel and childcare savings that can be realized by a four-day week. Sarah Kearns, acquisition editor at nonprofit Knowledge Futures based in Massachusetts, has also saved money on food since the company adopted a four-day week in mid 2021.
“It’s much easier to go and pick up my CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] box on Friday afternoons, which is a fairly affordable alternative to grocery stores and supports local farmers,” she said. “I’ve noticed that a few of us at the [company] have gardens and are becoming more self-sustainable too, so having a whole day to work on those farming and homesteading projects is fantastic.”
Heather Swift-Hunt, director of design and technology outreach at Kickstarter in Liverpool, has worked a four-day week since April 2022 and she cited similar advantages. “I have time to fix things and run errands, which often leads to cost savings. I can get organized with our weekly shop, and do more cooking instead of ordering in.”
She also does the gardening for her apartment building so the residents don’t need to pay a gardener, and she can carry out other domestic tasks. “When our fridge was broken, I had time to research the parts and fix it myself, instead of immediately calling in a repair person,” she added.
Meanwhile, employees at companies that adopted four-day weeks four years ago – like e-commerce search agency Blink, based in Norwich in the U.K., have stressed that the subsequent reduction in fatigue has indirectly led to cost savings – and more choice over how to spend.
“This could mean leisurely cooking a meal on a Friday rather than coming home exhausted and getting a takeaway, for example,” said Sam Wright, managing director of Blink. “Or being able to research purchases properly instead of buying the first thing you come across because you haven’t got the time,” he added.
The four-day week is saving companies money too. In November 2021, the U.K.’s Henley Business School surveyed 2,000 employees and 500 business leaders, revealing that businesses are saving £104 billion ($120 billion), or around 2.2% of total turnover, by offering a four-day work week.
U.K.-based challenger bank Atom Bank started its four-day week trial in November 2021, and now plans to permanently move to a four-day week, including changing the terms and conditions of contracts. Anne-Marie Lister, Atom Bank’s chief people officer, said the organization has saved money across a number of areas including recruitment and advertising costs (direct applications for roles increased by 95% from June 2021 to June 2022), and reductions in travelling costs and expense claims from employees travelling to different locations. Lister said the four-day week has also reduced attrition, which was running higher than ever following the pandemic as people re-evaluated their lives.
The shorter week has also been proven to increase productivity, boosting companies’ bottom lines. “Businesses need to understand that they can make real gains in productivity along with the other benefits, and that’s worth more than cutting people’s salary,” said Blink’s Wright.
MRL Consulting Group has seen a 30% increase in productivity since adopting a four-day week. “For our consultants who earn commission, they’re actually earning more money now than they did before, so not only are they saving money on commuting but they’re making more as well,” said Lorence.