Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD and chair of the government’s Flexible Working Taskforce, has indicated that a four-day week could be just one of the ways in which post-pandemic working patterns change.
In an interview with the Politico website, he said that Covid had “fuelled” the idea that flexible working “can and should be seen as just as much an acceptable way of working as a more standard five-day working week”.
“These different forms of working should be seen as part of the norm,” he added. “There are a variety of mechanisms by which you can support people in these more flexible ways of working, which can be helpful in terms of inclusion and wellbeing and balance of life.”
The Flexible Working Taskforce, originally set up in 2018, recently raised concerns that employers could risk creating a “two-tier workforce” if they fail to offer flexible working on an inclusive basis.
Cheese said it would not be the role of the taskforce to suggest changing contracts or employment terms, and that working hours and arrangements would be up to businesses to resolve themselves.
However, the group will look at the legal landscape surrounding flexible working and whether it can be improved. The government has confirmed it is in consultation to offer the right to request flexible working as a day-one right, and this could feature in the upcoming Employment Bill.
Last week ministers were forced to deny reports that they were consulting on a legal ‘right to work from home’ that would make it illegal for employers to force staff back into the office.
Cheese added that a discussion solely about working from home or the office risked polarising the debate, rather than focusing on improving the working situation through flexible hours or other factors.
He said: “What we refer to as the standard five-day working week, that’s what will begin to change. And it could emerge in lots of different forms, one of which could be a four-day working week.”
“I don’t think we’re at that point. But, who knows? I think if we can really make some of these things work for us, if we can really make technology enable a better balance of work, and all those other things help us all, then maybe we will see more of those sorts of things being adopted.”
The TUC has been calling for a four-day or shorter working week since before the pandemic, claiming that employers should use increasingly sophisticated technology to shorten working hours.
Cheese went on to criticise the “mixed messaging” from the government on whether employees should be encouraged back to physical workplaces.
Many employers have announced plans to introduce hybrid working arrangements where staff work from home a certain number of days a week, or base their location on the type of work they’re doing. Consulting firm Deloitte last week announced it would let staff choose when and where they worked.
Some are placing conditions on return to work arrangements, however. Investment bank Morgan Stanley – whose chief executive last week called for workers to return to the office – has indicated that employees that are not fully vaccinated against Covid will need to work remotely.
An internal memo said: “Starting 12 July all employees, contingent workforce, clients and visitors will be required to attest to being fully vaccinated to access Morgan Stanley buildings in New York City and Westchester.”
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