Staff at Britain’s second-largest supermarket chain Sainsbury’s have been offered a four-day work week by bosses in a new trial aiming to improve workers’ flexibility.
Employees at head offices in Holborn, Coventry and Milton Keynes, as well as those working in warehouses and as store managers at its 1,400 UK stores, have all been taking part in the scheme which is running for three months.
The retailer hopes the scheme will provide more flexible working conditions to staff members – but includes no store workers below management.
It allows staff to choose how they work their hours – so they can work four longer days, or use the weekend to complete their work and have more time off in the week.
It comes after results from a pilot trial of a four-day week showed staff were happier and businesses performed better, as well as seeing improved levels staff retention.
Staff at Sainsbury’s working in head offices in Holborn, Coventry and Milton Keynes, as well as those working in warehouses and store managers at its 1,400 UK stores have all been taking part
The majority – 92 per cent – of participating companies in the four-day week trial said they intended to continue, and 30 per cent confirmed they had made it permanent. Pictured: Participating companies’ plans for after the trial
Employees for Sainsbury’s must still work their 37.5-hours per week, just in a seven-day period instead of strict Monday to Friday hours.
One London store manager told the Times: ‘No one wants to work full-time anymore. The new condensed working scheme, introduced almost two months ago, means I have more time to spend with my family.’
A head-office employee told the newspaper that the scheme was proving to be effective financially, but they were not keen on the idea.
He said it was ‘too difficult to navigate for managers, especially when people are working from home.
‘If people did decide to work on a Saturday then you don’t know if they’re doing the work or not.’
A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s told MailOnline: ‘We are always looking to evolve our ways of working to ensure we can do the best possible job for customers while continuing to be a brilliant place to work for our colleagues.
‘We are currently testing new ways to be more efficient and offer improved flexibility.’
‘At the same time, we are committed to supporting colleagues when they need it most.
‘That’s why we have recently invested £185 million to give retail hourly-paid colleagues a pay rise to help them manage increasing bills.
‘This is the second pay rise we have given retail colleagues this financial year, taking Sainsbury’s total investment in colleague pay to £205 million.’
They stressed the company is a 24/7 business and is not taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
A pilot published yesterday saw 61 UK companies reduce working hours for all staff by 20 per cent for six months from June last year, with no cut in wages.
At least 56 said they planned to continue with a four-day week, with 18 having already adopted the policy.
Staff said they found it easier to balance work with both family and social commitments and that their mental and physical health improved from having an extra day off, while the average firm reported a slight revenue increase over the trial period.
The Sainsbury’s trial does not include store staff below managerial level
Employees were asked to report whether they ‘would like to spend more time’ on a range of activities
Pros and cons of a four-day week
- Fewer distractions at work
- Longer hours does not mean more output
- Increased mental wellbeing and physical health
- Parents with children find themselves less stressed out
- Lowered carbon footprint
- Not all industries can participate
- It might widen existing inequalities
- The cost risk for employers is expensive
- Workers may put in the same hours anyways
- Difficult team management
Source: Adecco Group
But some have raised concerns that a four-day week is not suitable for shift workers such as Sainsbury’s store employees.
Chris Sanderson, CEO at hospitality employment app Limber, said: ‘The four-day week is an obsession of the middle classes. And every time this circulates, shift workers get ignored.
‘The very same shift workers who worked through the pandemic and who are the heart of our economy and the foundation of every service we take for granted.
‘What we’d like to see discussed is that, if the 4-day week becomes the norm, does that mean shift workers get a 20 percent uplift in pay? Or one paid day off a week. We bet it doesn’t.’
His concerns were echoed by Michelle Jones, founder of membership Kind Currency.
‘The four-day working week is set to widen the disadvantaged gap significantly. It is accessed merely by privilege,’ she said.
‘The actual ”needed” sectors in society, where real ”burnout” is experienced due to working to protect basic human need, do not have this privileged work pattern as an option, nor do those working minimum wage to survive, many working more than one essential frontline job.’
Some companies also fear it could harm profits or increase prices for customers.
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said: ‘In a supermarket, wages are about 8 per cent or so of sales. In a pub, wages are about 34 percent of sales.
‘If a four-day week pushed up the cost of labour, it would affect pubs more than supermarkets (due to their higher labour costs), pushing up the relative price of a pint.
‘The effect would be more intense in smaller pubs, creating problems for tenants, for example, with labour scheduling, due to the requirement for more employees per pub.’
Sainsbury’s is not the first supermarket to trial a four-day week after Morrisons announced in January 2022 it would ask staff to work 35 hours over four days instead of five.
A statement on Morrisons’ website says: ‘At Morrisons, we believe that flexible working can really make a difference. It can help us be more productive as a business.
‘It can bring all kinds of health benefits. And it puts everyone’s wellbeing first.
So, at Head Office we operate over a four-day working week, which means many of our people work nine hour shifts instead of eight hours, with a six hour Saturday shift thirteen times a year.
‘The idea is that this innovative new way of working will mean we’re much more flexible and responsive, and we think it will make Morrisons a place where more people will want to join – and stay.’
The trial results released yesterday point to support for a four-day week from most staff who participated in it.
They revealed a significant drop in the rates of stress and illness among the approximately 2,900 staff trying a shorter working week.
Around 39 per cent of employees said they were less stressed compared with the start of the trial, and the number of sick days taken during the trial dropped by around two thirds.
There was a 57 per cent drop in the number of staff leaving the participating companies compared with the same period the previous year.
Store managers at Sainsbury’s 1,400 branches are completing the trial along with warehouse and head office staff
And levels of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and burnout decreased substantially, while more staff reported that balancing care responsibilities had become easier.
The results even found that company revenue increased slightly by 1.4 per cent on average over the trial period, and by a much higher 35 per cent when compared to the same six-month period in 2021.
Joe Ryle, director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, said the trial is ‘major breakthrough moment’ for the campaign towards a four-day working week.
‘Across a wide variety of different sectors of the economy, these incredible results show that the four-day week with no loss of pay really works’, Mr Ryle said.
‘Surely the time has now come to begin rolling it out across the country.’
Dr David Frayne, a research associate at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘We feel really encouraged by the results, which showed the many ways companies were turning the four-day week from a dream into realistic policy, with multiple benefits.’
The researchers insisted the results show the four-day week is ‘ready to take the next step from experimentation to implementation’.
‘The benefits of a shorter working week for no reduction in pay are now both well-known and well-evidenced: employees are happier and healthier, and the organisations they work for are often more productive, more efficient, and retain their staff more readily,’ it concluded.
The campaigners and academics will present the results at an event in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
It is being chaired by Peter Dowd, a Labour MP who brought forward the 32-Hour Working Week Bill in October, which would reduce the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 hours for all British workers.
Sainsbury’s has been contacted for comment.
How the six-day week was cut to five
Through much of history Europeans worked a six-day week, with Sunday reserved a day of rest – although some tasks, such as harvesting, could encroach on this time.
But with most people working in agriculture, the lack of artificial lighting meant most people could only work relatively short hours during the autumn and winter months.
The Industrial Revolution saw a dramatic increase in the hours Britons worked, with 16-hour days not uncommon.
The first example of a five-day week was seen in 1908. A mill in New England, US, allowed a two-day weekend so that Jewish workers could observe the Sabbath on Saturdays.
In 1926, carmaker Henry Ford gave his staff both days off, and created a 40-hour week for employees.
By 1932, the US had officially adopted the five-day week, to tackle unemployment created by the Great Depression.
The UK followed suit in 1933, when John Boot, from Boots corporation, closed factories on Saturdays and Sundays, and made it the company’s official policy the next year.