Insurance company Simply Business will become the largest UK firm to experiment with a reduction in working hours when it starts a trial in September which will see hundreds of call centre operators moved to a four-day week with no loss of pay.

“We've always thought about work a little differently”, Simply Business tweeted. “We believe a happy workforce results in great experiences for customers and drives business performance.”

It employs more than 500 people selling insurance to landlords and small firms, with up to half of them involved in the trial.

Simply Business said that it had sought advice from Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand financial services company that claims to have boosted productivity after switching to a four-day week in 2018.

General manager Debs Holland said: “Working in our contact centre is really hard. You have very little autonomy. In the rest of the business, people have significant flexibility. I believe we should create a world where they have the advantage we have”.

The four-day week idea has been championed by the TUC with General Secretary Frances O’Grady arguing that it is “a realistic goal for most people by the end of this century”.

However, a plan by the Wellcome Trust to trial it with 800 head office staff was recently scrapped with the research organisation saying it would be “too operationally complex to implement” particularly for employees in support functions such as IT, finance and human resources.

For Simply Business, the move from a 37.5-hour week (for which staff typically earn £26,000 a year) to a 30-hour week will require a 20% increase in productivity if business performance is not to suffer.

On its website, the company says: “We’ve been practising and supporting remote working way before it was in vogue, and you’ll feel trusted to tell us how — and where — you work best. This flexibility extends to working hours as well, whether it’s on a regular basis or as and when — if your childcare falls through or you need to take your cat to the vet”.

Its latest idea has been well received by the firm’s customers with a number taking to Twitter to voice their support.

Comment by BrightHR Chief Technological Officer Alastair Brown

Although the idea of a four-day working week continues to gain popularity, employers are under no legal requirement to introduce this into their company.

In fact, the closest the law gets is the option for flexible working, which any UK-based employee can request after working for the same employer for 26 weeks.

Despite this, employees are increasingly looking for roles that provide opportunity for a stronger work/life balance by moving away from traditional working hours.

Employers will always put the needs and requirements of a business first but they should remember that a motivated workforce can be crucial to the ongoing success of a company, helping to encourage retention levels, increase productivity and maintain a strong sector reputation.

Last reviewed 15 May 2019