Four-day working week for council staff leads to improved services, report finds

Four-day working week for council staff leads to improved services, report finds

A council that introduced a four-day week for staff is reaping the benefits according to research, after finding increased employee motivation and health.

The change also looks to have led to taxpayers of South Cambridgeshire District Council profiting from faster planning decisions, emergency house repairs and complaints handling.

The local authority brought in the trial for staff to do “100 per cent of the work in 80 per cent of the time” in January 2023, before it was later expanded to cover waste services.

The scheme, introduced by the Lib Dem-run council, was criticised by the Conservative government with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities calling on it to cease the trial.

But after deciding to continue, the council has now published an independent report which it said shows “the brave and pioneering trial has clearly been a success”.

The four-day working week trial was introduced by South Cambridgeshire District Council in January 2023 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The report further found staff turnover had reduced by 39 per cent, while there was also a 53 per cent rise in the average number of applications for roles.

Positions traditionally hard to recruit for – particularly in waste services – were filled, including 10 previously held by agency staff that gave the council an annual saving of £483,000 in agency costs.

Surveys for the report, conducted by academics at the universities of Cambridge and Salford, found significant increases in employee commitment, mental and physical health and motivation.

However, the survey did find more than a third of employees worked more than the agreed hours, with the majority working an additional two to three hours a week.

On council performance, the report found the number of complaints fell by almost 10 per cent.

Mystery shopper calls to the council’s customer service centre found 96 per cent of call-takers were able to answer enquiries to a high standard – well above the average benchmark score of 68 per cent.

The time to make a decision on planning applications fell by 1.5 weeks compared to before the trial, while three per cent more emergency repairs for housing were completed within 24 hours during the trial.

Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said: “These results prove once and for all that a four-day week with no loss of pay absolutely can succeed in a local government setting.

“Not only has work-life balance dramatically improved but so has the performance of the council.

“With a more sympathetic Labour government now in place, there is a huge opportunity for councils and organisations across the public sector to start planning for a four-day working week.”

Latest government figures show productivity in the UK has historically grown by two per cent per year, but since the 2008 recession it has risen more slowly.

The UK had the fourth highest GDP per hour worked of the G7 countries in 2022, but was around 16 per cent behind the US and Germany.

Four-day weeks have been seen as a solution by some employers, although the way they are run can be different, with some keeping the same number of hours across the week, but in fewer days.

Asda recently scrapped its scheme after staff complained that 11-hour shifts were leaving them exhausted.

However at South Cambridgeshire Council, where full-time staff taking part in the trial see their hours reduced to 32 hours a week, lead council member for resource John Williams told The Guardian the trial had been a success.

He said: “Coupled with the hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money that we have saved, improved recruitment and retention and positives around health and wellbeing, this brave and pioneering trial has clearly been a success.

“We know we cannot compete on salary alone and have needed to find bold new ways of tackling our recruitment and retention issues.”

The study covered 15 months of the four-day week trial and made adjustments for the impact of Covid-19 – although the authors said in a caveat that it could not be proven that the trial solely caused the benefits laid out.