Scotland plans 4-day work-week for civil servants


Workplaces which have dared to implement the four-day work-week policy are few and far between, but Scotland’s government is reportedly ready to take the plunge—and wants the private sector to join it.

Last year Britain completed the biggest trial yet of the four-day a week experiment, revealing fresh breakthroughs in productivity and flexibility in the workplace.

Now, Scotland is hoping to see similar outcomes when it pilots the scheme for some of its civil servants, The Times reported Sunday

The move, set to be unveiled by First Minister Humza Yousaf, will impact a range of departments and will reportedly run for about 12 months, the outlet said—without citing sources. 

Yousaf, who is the leader of the Scottish National Party, is expected to share more details on his plan on Tuesday with a start date reportedly pencilled in for the end of this year. 

Advisers are hoping a success in the four-day work-week program for the public sector could spur the private sector to adopt the practice, The Times reported, in a bid to improve productivity and promote work-life balance.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government told Fortune in a statement that the pilot program was intended to “assess environmental, health and wellbeing benefits, and efficiency gains this could bring,” and that specific details on it would follow “in due course.”

“There are several independent pilots already taking place in the U.K. and globally and by focusing on a public sector pilot we will be able to add additional value to the existing trials,” the spokesperson said.

Why the shorter work-week?

The SNP’s plan to offer a shorter work-week comes after a litany of preceding office-holders failed to make good on their policies, including recycling schemes and alcohol advertising.

The majority of Scotland’s civil servants continue to work from home, and with general elections slated for next year the four-day work-week pilot could demonstrate how new policies can be successfully pushed through.

A four-day week has garnered political support, including from Scottish Labour and the Welsh government, the Guardian reports. But no one has implemented it yet, with the exception of South Cambridgeshire district council, which launched a pilot program earlier this year to test out a four-day week.

What did the U.K.’s four-day work-week trial reveal?

Last year a U.K.-based trial involving nearly 3,000 workers from 61 companies trialled the four-day work-week for six months.

The results showed a 65% reduction in the number of sick days as well as a 57% lower chance of people quitting their jobs—both considered pivotal signs that employee motivation and retention were much higher. That’s not all: employees also reported lower stress and burnout as well as higher job satisfaction.

But what about the bottom line? Well, that improved, too. 

Thanks to the increased productivity and reduced staff turnover, businesses flagged large gains could be made by axing a working day. It’s perhaps no surprise then that a number of participating companies chose to stick with it.  

However other companies in the private sector have argued that a shorter work-week may not be applicable to employees across all industries—for instance, in the healthcare space.

Likewise staffers who work on a shift-basis earn more money from working longer, in which case a four-day week may not be feasible. This could further hike costs as organizations scramble to find staff who can work on an additional day-off each week, paying overtime

“Just like any change it will suit some and alienate others, and the reality may be that the structure doesn’t suit every employee or business model,” Pierre Lindmark, founder and CEO at management consultancy Winningtemp, told Fortune in July. “The truth is that the four-day working week isn’t for everyone.”

Other large corporations, including Microsoft—which trialled the four-day week in Japan—have found that it was too complex to fit business priorities with one less work day, even though the results were positive for employee well-being.

But one thing is certain: the overwhelming majority of organizations that’ve tried a four-day work-week feel like there’s no going back. Trials in other parts of the world, including the U.S., have proven to yield positive results, with many companies wanting to keep the set-up going following optimistic results.

Update, September 4, 2023: This article has been updated with a statement from the Scottish government.

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