Working Four the Man: Looking at the impact of a four-day working week

October 7, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Responses to the likelihood of a four day work week are mixed at best, with the Labour Party concluding that capping working hours would not be a feasible endeavour.

What does this mean?

The result of Mr McDonnell’s (Labour MP for Hayes) commissioned report on the four day work week has concluded that such a blanket policy would fail in the UK

It highlights that such restrictions must be tailored to each industry, accounting for the differing nature of work done. While some companies have implemented the four day work week with success, the response from academic institutions and business owners has been cynical. 

Many point out the adverse pay cuts on unskilled labour or contract workers who need to clock in time. Others argue that this will dampen innovation and investment. There may also be a greater likelihood of mental and physical exhaustion for employees, should they be forced to rush their workload through four days instead of five. 

Proponents of the policy, however, believe that worker productivity and staff retention will increase as one’s work-life balance improves. They believe that this will result in higher quality of output; thereby increasing profit on the whole.

Why should law firms care?

These proposed working conditions hold significant connotations for law firms. Factors to consider would be potential gains in mental health benefits, staff retention and improvement in quality of work. Simultaneously, these may be negated by the added strain to meet clients’ expectations and increase the firm’s revenue.

Allowing an extra day off would give people in the legal sector more time on their personal lives and recreational pastimes. This would reduce the impact of a law firm’s hectic environment, allowing for better management of mental health. One could argue that this would result in more satisfied employees, thereby increasing retention rates for the firm

This can be incredibly beneficial to law firms. As more people stay and grow their careers with a firm, less re-training and cultural re-integration will be needed. Teams become more familiar with each other, thus improving productivity.

However, the pressure to meet client and court deadlines within four days is undeniable. Inevitably, most court deadlines are drafted on the basis of a five day working week and clients will still expect the same quality and quantity of work from law firms. This all means that there is increased pressure on lawyers to deliver within a shorter span of time. For firms that rely on billable hours, the shorter work week would be even less sustainable. 

Such constraints only serve to exacerbate mental health issues and even compromise the quality of work that firms are able to deliver. Furthermore, such an outcome could compromise yearly revenue; negatively affecting a firm’s profitability and nullifying any potential benefits made from this model.

Arguably, the four day work week is unsuitable for the traditional law firm. One would need to formulate more novel ways to ensure that firms can still meet client demands without subjecting lawyers to increased pressure if such a model is ever to be viable for the legal sector.

Report written by Debra Lim

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