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Debate - should the property industry trial a four-day week?

Earlier this year, we ran a story asking whether agency would ever embrace a four-day week. This came ahead of the biggest pilot scheme of a four-day working week anywhere in the world starting in Britain in June, with 3,300 workers at 70 companies on board.

That pilot is now two months in and the first experiences are starting to be published. The six-month pilot, which comes to an end in November, is following the 100-80-100 principle – which sees employees receive 100% of their pay for 80% of their usual time, in exchange for maintaining 100% of their usual productivity.   

It is being run by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign, in collaboration with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.


Throughout the trial, researchers will analyse the effect the new working pattern has on productivity levels, gender equality and the environment, in addition to worker wellbeing. When the trial has finished, at the end of November, firms can choose whether or not they would like to stick to the new schedule. Those involved in the scheme include the Royal Society of Biology, brewing company Pressure Drop, and a fish and chip shop in Norfolk.

Some participants have already said they feel happier, healthier and more productive in their jobs as a result of the shift to a four-day week. A similar pilot held in Iceland, between 2015 and 2019 and with 2,500 of the country’s public sector workers put through two trials, found no corresponding drop in productivity. Importantly, it also found a dramatic improvement in employee wellbeing.

Recent research showed that nearly three-quarters of workers are in favour of a four-day working week, with a survey of 2,000 workers, carried out by comparison site NerdWallet, finding that 72% of the 1,310 respondents who currently work five or more days per week were either in favour or strongly in favour of a four-day working week. 

Additionally, employees felt confident in their ability to fulfil their work duties within less time. In fact, three in five (60%) of those surveyed said they could do the job they do now in just four days. 

This has been backed up by other research showing that the majority of UK workers are in favour of a four-day week or more hybrid working.

However, some have hit back against the concept, arguing it won’t work or that it’s unrealistic for millions of people.

Estate agency and property in general is a different beast to most industries. It typically involves long hours, weekend work and out of office work, but are these ways of working effective enough? Could something more flexible lead to more productivity? Could it help prevent burnout in, for example, the conveyancing sector, which has seen many leaving the profession in recent years?

Could it improve employees’ mental health and reduce stress? Could smarter ways of working ultimately improve the homebuying and selling process, leaning on tech to take the admin strain and building in greater digital efficiencies?

Critics, on the other hand, will say it's unworkable in agency and property more generally, and that it will end up creating more workload for people on the days they do work as they try and cram five days’ work into four.

There are also potential logistical, financial and organisational complications to consider, which leads some to think it’s a fantasy for estate agency.

James Forrester, managing director of Barrows and Forrester, is one of those who believes it just wouldn’t fit with the property market.

“A four day working week may have proved a success in other areas of industry but quite frankly, this success is unlikely to transfer to the property sector,” he said. 

“Both the sales and rental spaces are incredibly fast-moving areas of business and they both require a great deal of flexibility from agents in order to keep the wheels turning. More now than ever with the sharp uplift in market activity caused by the pandemic.” 

He added: “While a four day week may sound like a good idea on the face of it, both landlords and sellers alike expect their agent to be available when trusted with the most expensive asset they are likely to own. While we must, of course, maintain some form of work/life balance, moving to a four day week is not only going to impact the consumer, but it will also lengthen what is already a considerably protracted process when it comes to completing on a sale, in particular.”

Where do you stand? Let us know in the comments and vote in our poll below.

Poll: Should the property industry implement a trial of a four-day week to see how it works out?


  • Matt Faizey

    So, given that there's be little agreement on which four days, how do you decide?

    Quietest day for completions is a wednesday.

    So, Mon/Tue/Thur/Fri ?

    But then many will argue for a long weekend.......

    And others will think 2on, 1off, 2on, 2off sounds good.....

    In an industry that can't even agree on form formats I'd say 'Welcome to a great idea that despite benefitting all will see all disagree'

    Personally I think after adjustment it would spread the workload. It would force more completions into Jan/Feb/Mar.

    Simple supply line economics would ensure that.

    What we'd be down to is if conveyancers, EA's and Movers can manage customer expectations. As in the short term six months conveyancing will quickly become eight.

    Moreover which agents will be honest with the first time buyers and explain it won't be '12 weeks ish' as they do now. They will need to be honest. The whole industry will, for if it doesn't fall throughs a will sky rocket.

  • Simon Shinerock

    It would require a big rethink but with the right automation it’s possible and probably inevitable

  • jeremy clarke

    It could work with sales teams who work to targets but office based salaried staff?
    Small offices with fewer staff trying to cover the hours that customers expect, not practical.
    The only establishments I can see this working are the larger busy offices that employ just sales oriented staff and manage the administration elsewhere.

  • icon

    You can’t get a passport, you can’t get a driving license, you can’t get through to HMRC, you can’t get your bags at the airport, you can’t get a Dr’s appointment, property transactions are taking 150 days, we have a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis and are starring down the barrel of another global recession lead by the USA and potentially China with its very own mortgage crisis.

    Excuse me if I don’t believe that now is a good time for any industry to be cutting down its working week by 20%.

    Perhaps the least surprising statements in this article are,
    1. That public sector workers saw no drop in productivity when they cut 20% off their working week.
    2. That 75% of those polled wanted another day off.

    If your workforce can genuinely do in 4 days what they’re currently doing in 5 then you have a very serious problem and either have too many staff or aren’t doing enough business development.

    As for the mental health aspect, I suggest that agents and agencies learn to put their phones down when they’re not at work, qualify buyers and tenants BEFORE arranging viewings and increase their fees so they can pay their staff properly.

    Now that’s a campaign I could get behind.

    Algarve  Investor

    I guess the idea is people would work better and more productively if less stressed, worn out and under pressure to hit targets. So those backlogs you talk of might start to disappear.

    It would also be done in such a way as having some staff in Monday to Thursday, and others in Tuesday to Friday. With agency, it would need to be done in a way that covers weekends and out of office hours potentially.

    But really, the old system is broken and unproductive. Britain works some of the longest hours in Europe, but our productivity is poor. Perhaps tells us something, no?

    The pandemic showed that flexible working can function perfectly well. There might also be an uplift to recruitment in all this. If, say, would-be agents or conveyancers knew they wouldn't be working ridiculously long hours and suffering burnout, the incentive to join these professions might be greater. What is the staff turnover like in these professions? How many people leave them after a few years? What is the retention rate? I'd imagine not very good.

    No-one is saying there wouldn't be challenges to a shift - I happen to think shorter working days, in most lines of work, would work better than a four-day week myself. But we have to think big and bold. We have to be innovative. Something is going wrong at present, why don't we seek out alternatives rather than sticking with the status quo? Better for wellbeing, better for the environment, no drop in productivity - I can't see too much wrong with it.

    It would be worth at least a small-scale trial, if some were brave enough to take part, to see how it goes.

  • Richard Rawlings

    Couldn’t have put it better myself James! 100% right.

  • icon

    As a developer we usually finish at lunchtime on Fridays.
    Agency is now a low paid job I tread recently that the average salary is 30k
    Making it a 4 day a week job would help to retain and attract people

  • icon

    I totally endorse what James says as well.

  • Mike Lewis

    Spot on James!

  • John Ahmed

    4 day working week?
    What a load of cr**
    Working within the property industry it feels like parts of it are on a 2 day working week already, parts of the public sector are sitting around in their pyjamas with so called working from home initiatives!
    James comments above are spot on!

  • Glenn Taylor

    Doesn't everyone answer emails and telephones 7 days a week?
    Its not a job its a career allowing you to better your earnings through performance and commitment.
    Now people want to sit on there arses for three days. What is this world coming too.
    No one will be doing that on my watch, out of my til.
    I agree with James


    No I own my own company
    I do not answer e mails and phones 7 days a week
    I do not expect my staff to do so
    Nor do I expect to contact a solicitor or dentist etc and get a response after working hours I understand that people have lives and that work is not the most important thing in their world
    I want my staff to have a good family/social life which is why I retain staff

  • icon

    I don’t make my staff work weekends - I cover it all. That way my girls and guys work five days and have a good work life balance.

    Works for me.

  • icon

    James' comments above .... 100% correct.


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