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Four-day working week

What is a four-day week?

A trial of a four-day week for colleagues at the Council has taken place, having started in January 2023. The model we have been working to is when people deliver 100% of their work, in around 80% of their hours (or pro rata for part time colleagues), for 100% of their pay. There is evidence that working a four-day week means people got more done in less time.

Some private sector businesses who work a four-day week choose to close for one whole day during the week - usually a Friday. This is not what the Council is doing because we are maintaining our full opening hours so that they are at least the same as they were before the trial. You can continue to contact us on any day of the week that you choose.

Whilst we are working in this way, Council officers are being asked not to take on any additional paid work on their non-working day. We have found that colleagues are using their non-working day in a variety of ways, including caring responsibilities, volunteering, and their personal health and wellbeing. 

Why did we trial a four-day week?

The main reasons we trialled the four-day week include:

  • To help us attract and keep talented colleagues in an incredibly competitive local employment market.
  • So we can improve our services by filling vacant posts permanently, rather than relying on more expensive agency staff. Regularly changing staff, or using agency staff to cover posts, is both costly and disruptive to services for residents. For example, when case officers change during the process of a planning application, it can cause delays and frustration because a lot of context and institutional memory is lost.
  • To reduce costs. Before the initial trial was announced in September 2022, the Council identified 22 roles that were being covered by agency staff. This was because the Council was not able to recruit to the roles permanently. The cost of agency workers covering them was around £2 million a year. As things currently stand – of those 22 posts, 10 have been recruited to with permanent colleagues, two posts have been deleted and as part of our continued transformation work (which is expected to bring further savings of £2 million), a further 10 have been subsumed into other roles or are externally funded. We have judged it best to only include the 10 roles that were covered by agency, and have now been recruited to permanently, in the cost reduction calculation for the trial period. During the trial the Council was using projections for potential savings. However, the actual saving from employing the 10 colleagues permanently rather than using agency cover is £434,000 (period between 2 September 2022 to 31 December 2023).
    It is however important to note that the Council’s agency spend still fluctuates due to the need to bring in agency staff to carry out short term programmes where permanent staff are not required. For example, this includes employing temporary staff to support the Council’s commitments under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

The decision-making process

  • Decisions on the initial three-month trial, and subsequently extending the trial for a year, were made by Cabinet.
  • At a meeting of the Council’s Cabinet on Monday 12 September 2022, Cabinet Members agreed to proceed with an initial three-month trial. 
  • At the Cabinet meeting on Monday 15 May 2023, Cabinet members agreed to extend the trial for 12 months after independently-analysed data showed the first trial had been a success. At that Cabinet meeting, Members also agreed for waste crews to take part in a trial. The four-day bin collection pattern will continue until Councillors have decided on the next steps.
  • There have been regular updates regarding the trial at our Employment and Staffing Committee meetings.
  • A report was published on 21 February 2024 outlining the proposed next steps for the Council's four-day week. This was discussed at an Employment and Staffing Committee meeting on 29 February 2024. The report was then agreed at our Cabinet meeting on 12 March 2024 and Cambridge City Council's Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 25 March 2024. The report confirms four-day week working continues until further information is provided by Government following their Local Government Finance Settlement consultation as they consulted on the potential of using financial levers in the future to discourage the working practice. Until this information is known, it is not feasible for the Council to carry out a meaningful consultation of its own. 
  • A report to consider the data gathered from the full trial, until 31 March 2024, was presented to a meeting of our Employment and Staffing Committee on Monday 15 July 2024. It will also be discussed at a Full Council meeting on Thursday 18 July 2024. You can read our news release summary.
  • The Council's Chief Executive has been undertaking a Doctorate in Business Administration relating to the four-day week in the public sector, which she started during 2020. As mentioned above, the decision-maker for the initial three-month and subsequent year-long trial was Cabinet. Cabinet and Full Council will discuss next steps at the end of the extended trial period. As this is the case, legal advice stated that the Chief Executive's Doctorate did not need to be declared. In addition, the qualification is 100% self-funded and carried out in the Chief Executive's own time. 

Best Value Notice

The Council received a Best Value Notice from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on Friday 3 November 2023. It relates to the Council's four-day week trial. An Extraordinary Meeting was held on Monday 20 November 2023 to discuss the Best Value Notice. The data that the Council is submitting to Government as part of this process is available to view.

The Council received a second Best Value Notice from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on Wednesday 8 May 2024. This extended the Notice for a further six months.

Analysis of data from initial three-month trial

The Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge independently reviewed the Council’s data from the initial three-month trial. They looked at data from 18 different key areas, covering performance in Planning, Housing, Transformation, Human Resources and Corporate Services and Finance.

The data shows:

  • Nine out of the 16 areas monitored show substantial improvement when comparing the trial period from January to March to the same period in 2022.
  • The remaining seven areas monitored either remain at similar levels compared to the same period last year or saw a slight decline.
  • The Bennett Institute noted however that not a single area of performance fell to a concerning level during the trial.

The Bennett Institute approached the Council to offer their expertise in this area for free. During the process of writing their reports, the Bennett Institute provided the opportunity for the Council to check them for accuracy - as they would do for any clients that they work with. The Council then provided comments on the Bennett Institute's draft reports, as is normal for this type of process.

If we can be more productive on a four-day week schedule why can’t we be more productive but still work five days?

Working a four-day week is very different from working a five-day week. It is more intense – it has to be, in order to complete 100% of the work in 80% of the time. Many people will have experiences of the end of their week being less productive than the beginning. In a four-day week, we expect the end of the week to be just as productive as the beginning – but we know that this level of intensity does mean the longer weekend is really required to recover and re-energise ready for the next week. Trials of a four-day week are going on elsewhere, and our trial is testing this theory for us.

What we have also found with the four-day week trial so far is that employees have become more committed to the organisation, and their intention to stay with us has increased. This increases our productivity by reducing turnover costs – we can be more consistent in delivering services because we don’t waste time recruiting and training new colleagues. Before the four-day week trial this wasn’t the case – we had high turnover especially in some key service areas.

Some people think we should be able to be as productive over five days as we are over four. This is a bit like saying people running a marathon should run at the same speed as people running a sprint race – we know that’s not physically possible. It’s the same with a four-day week. The key for us is that all of the work is delivered, in 80% of the time. People feel more committed and so their motivation is higher. The office is open five days a week (and a little longer than usual on Wednesday evenings).

We don’t know whether the positive signs we have seen from the trial so far will be sustained – but that is part of the reason for a longer trial as it is evidence-led.

Got a question or comment?

If you have any questions about the trial, or would like to make a comment about the trial arrangements, then please just complete the short form below. If you would like someone to get back to you, please remember to leave your email address.

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