Four-day working week: What it means for working parents and childcare

Could the four-day working week ease the financial pressure for working parents?

four-day working week illustrated by dad with child sat on his shoulders as he works in the evening
(Image credit: Getty Images / Future)

The four-day working week trial kicked off in June 2022, with over 3300 employees across 73 UK companies trialling this new way of working; a 4-day work week with no reduction in pay.

First, there were talks of a 4-day school week. Now it’s suggested that this four-day work week trial - which was organised by the 4 Day Week Campaign along with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College - could help ease childcare costs (opens in new tab) and the cost of living crisis, especially for working parents, if adopted across the UK.  

For as long as we can remember, the working week has always been five days, plodding on and losing momentum but working towards the two glorious weekend days, that disappear in a blink. The working week is draining, especially so for parents. They work all day to then work when they get home - on dinner, homework, bath time, bedtimes and preparing for the next day. Then the weekend zips by in a flurry of washing piles, life admin, and ferrying kids to football, tennis, and dance class. It's easy to see why parents burn out.

Editor of TheMoneyEdit.com Kalpana Fitzpatrick (opens in new tab) tells us; "With the rising cost of living prices as well as increases in childcare costs, a four-day week could alleviate much of the pressure working parents face financially. We have inflation at a 40-year high, the cost of borrowing is up as interest rates creep up again, and energy costs remain high and unaffordable for many.  A four-day week, where there is no loss of pay, could make a significant difference to a household budget and could even stop some families from falling into debt. The fact is, childcare costs and commuting can run into the thousands - so an opportunity to reduce costs is welcome if a household can make significant savings."

Four-day working week: what it means for parents 

A four-day working week could mean thousands of pounds saved in childcare and on commuting not to mention a better balance for mental health and self-care. Parents and caregivers, who are financially responsible for a child under two years old, would save £1,440 in childcare across a year if they didn’t work for just one day a week. These numbers are based on calculations shared by the leftwing thinktank Autonomy and data for 2021 from the Trades Union Congress – although working parents spend significantly more on child care in many parts of the country.

Mum-of-one Jess tells us; “We pay £60 a day for our son to attend nursery and he’s there for 5 days a week. So we’re paying £1300 - more than our mortgage - a month. If we didn’t have to pay one day that would save us over £3000 a year in childcare costs. Money that we could plow back into building our economy.”

In addition to childcare, there’s a saving of £340 a year from commuting when not travelling to work just one day a week, The commuting cost calculation is based on an average annual bill of about £1,700, drawn from a 2019 survey of 2,000 full-time, part-time and self-employed people from across the UK.

This four-day working model is not only positive financially for families but should - in theory - also help to address the burden of the mental load. Having an extra day to focus on family and home life could make it easier to balance responsibilities among parents. 

Currently, men take on men 37 percent of the caregiving burden in the home. They are still seen as the primary earners and women as the primary carers. As it’s women who are more likely to quit their job or work part-time, a shorter working week would free up men’s time to do more care work so women can increase their paid hours or enter the work market if they wish to.

Our society is filled with contradictions. We tell parents to 'enjoy every minute' but then we make it impossible for them to do this. We say 'life is short' but then we fill every minute with work. The four-day workweek model could help increase family connections and decrease these ridiculous contradictions.

While a four-day working week could reduce childcare costs and help us spend more time with our kids, we don't want a four-day workweek with longer hours crammed into four days. This could create childcare issues for parents of school-age kids. Really, it's less about the number of days we work and more about the hours... a 30-hour hour work week across 4 days is the sweet spot. 

Psychotherapist and mum-of-three, Anna Mathur (opens in new tab) agrees; "Having a working relationship where trust and autonomy allows you to work the hours in a way that is the most productive for you as an individual in the wider context or your home life means that we are more likely to thrive in both settings. Trust, mutual respect and autonomy are the trinity that will find our work and home lives working with more synchronicity."

Parenting expert and mum of two, Kirsty Ketley (opens in new tab) tells us how her four-day working week has impacted her parenting. “Six months ago I made the decision to keep one day a week completely free from work. I’m a freelancer and parenting consultant so I don’t have set days to work, it can be quiet for one week but then I'll have a full seven days and evenings if I'm not careful. It hasn't always been easy, but most weeks, I can take one day for myself and it has made a huge difference to how I feel and I feel more able to be there for my family. I am so much more productive and I am more on top of my parent admin now.”

Director of research at Autonomy, Will Stronge agrees; “The benefits of a four-day week for the wellbeing of workers and boosting productivity are well known.” Referring to the cost of living crisis he added; “A four-day week with no loss of pay could play a crucial role in supporting workers to make ends meet over the next few years.”

Implementing a four-day work week and less hours can not only help address the balance in mental health for parents it can also boost their productivity when they are at work.  No one works well when they're tired or stressed. 

How does a four-day work week work?

A four-day work week isn't compressed hours, as many parents may recognise, but rather reduced hours. So, the employee would work around 28 hours over four days and have a three-day weekend.

Is the UK getting a four-day working week?

While there has been no formal decision on this, recent findings from The Times (opens in new tab) showed that 86% of the companies who took part in the trial are in favour of continuing with this working model. The trial is due to end in Nov 2022 so, watch this space...

Which countries already have a four-day working week?

The UK is part way through one of the biggest trials of the 4-day working week amongst more than 3,000 firms across the country, and the results have overall been pretty positive so far. Other countries who already subscribe to this working model are;

  • Belgium
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Japan
  • Spain
  • UAE

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