EP 104

Could we do a 4-day week in construction? (EP 104)



This week, Paul is joined by Joe Ryle, Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, Media and Comms Lead for the think tank Autonomy and former advisor to the Shadow Chancellor.

Joe is leading the campaign for a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay, which he argues would benefit workers and employers. In this thought-provoking conversation, Joe lays out the benefits of the 4-day working week for all and then discusses how it could and if it could work in construction - particularly in the context of time-based pay (i.e. day works on site and charging per hour as a consultant).

Here’s the link to the report on a 4-day working week in construction.


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Paul Heming: Hello and welcome to episode 104 of the Own the Build podcast with me, Paul Heming. How is everyone doing today? I hope you’re very well. I’m doing particularly well today because in the studio, we’ve got someone who is completely outside of the construction sector, but has got thoughts on how we should be restructuring and potentially managing our businesses and the industry in general, which I’m super, super interested to hear about. Today, we’ve got Joe Ryle, who is the director of the four-day week campaign, Media and Comms Lead for the think tank Autonomy and former advisor to the Shadow Chancellor. It’s really, really great to have you on the show today, and I am particularly interested, as a business owner, to hear about the four-day week. This episode was actually almost requested by one of our Own the Build listeners. So Chris, if you are listening to this, this one is just for you. And if anyone else has any great episode ideas, because I’m sure this one’s gonna be great, feel free to get in touch. Joe, welcome to the show mate. Welcome to Own the Build. How you doing?

Joe Ryle: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m doing well, thanks. How are you?

Paul Heming: Pretty good mate. Pretty good. I mean, you’ve just come back from Sunny Portugal, I understand. And you’re here to talk all about construction. You lucky Devil, are you ready to talk about construction?

Joe Ryle: Yeah, always ready. I’ve got lots to say about it.

Paul Heming: Excellent, excellent. So like I said, I’m super excited about this show. I’ve given a brief intro to you and your career to date, your experience and what you’re doing now. Just do a far better job, Joe, just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Joe Ryle: Sure. Yeah. So, as you say, I’m the director of the four-day week campaign, which is a campaign that has existed for over five years now. Campaigning for a four-day, 32-hour working week with no loss of pay for workers. And hopefully, you know, it’s an idea that your list has been hearing a lot more about over the last few years. Really, it’s since the Covid pandemic that we’ve seen a real kind of, sort of catapult in interest in a four-day week and it’s really kind of risen up the agenda. We’ve been running, we may talk about this a bit more in a bit, but we’ve been running this big, the biggest ever trial of a four-day working week in the world so far, with 70 companies, 3000 workers taking part. And it’s, you know, really an idea that’s taking off and lots of people talking about it. Lots of people thinking about how we can reshape the world of work since the Covid pandemic. So, it’s an interesting time to be talking about four-day working weeks.

Paul Heming: Tell me, Joe, why are you the director of the four-day working week? Why is this something that you personally are championing? What’s it mean to you? Like, what’s the inspiration? Where did it come from? Five years and a day ago you were sat doing something else. What changed?

Joe Ryle: Well, I should say I didn’t actually found the campaign. It was set up before me. I was working in Parliament for a number of years before that, but I guess for me on a personal level, you know, I was someone that had always worked kind of full-time and full-time being kind of nine to five, five-day working week, or in many cases longer than that. I worked for Labor Party for a couple of years, you know, and we’d be routed on Saturdays and Sundays when I was in the press team, you know, and it was a job that I really enjoyed and really valued. But it just struck me that they’re just like having that lack of work life balance meant that, yeah, on a personal level, I kind of felt that my sense of, my self-identity was really just sort of dominated by work and I kind of lost sense of who I was in the world outside of it. And always just yeah, felt burnt out. First felt stressed, felt overworked and that would affect my, not just my kind of personal wellbeing and how much I was enjoying life, but also how motivated it was at work. You know, you sort of get to, you know, that dreaded Sunday that everyone talks about, you know, it’s like, oh my God, we got to get back in again. We just finished on Friday. And I just felt like there must be a better way and that was where they kind of, I found out about the four-day week campaign and after that era of working in parliament kind of got more involved and then ended up working on the campaign.

Paul Heming: Amazing. Amazing. I feel like if I stop working on Thursday night and had Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that’s Sunday dreads gonna be even worse. Please don’t take me back to work now. I don’t want to do it. But all jokes aside. I think that it’s quite interesting, well quite useful for you to ground our chat in what a four-day working week means. Because I’ll be honest with you, until we started talking, I didn’t know whether it meant, you know, you work four days and get paid four days, you can work. Like I just didn’t know how it worked. And you said something that is really, really critical, I think to everyone’s understanding. The four-day working week, and what you are campaigning on is a 32-hour working week that is equivalent pay, identical pay to a 40-hour. So, it’s basically four days, not five, and you get paid the same. Is that right?

Joe Ryle: That’s exactly it. And you know, that’s what we see as a true four-day week. It’s about a genuine reduction in working hours. And the reason for that is, you know, the four-day week at its heart is a policy to tackle burnout, stress, overwork, you know, lack of work life balance. And so you have to be reducing hours for it to be a four-day week that’s going to bring those benefits. And there are other versions. There are compressed hours, four-day weeks, there’s shorter working weeks, there’s part-time working. You know, there’s lots of other different variations of more flexible working. But we think at its heart and if you look at the historical case, you know, it was a hundred years ago that we moved from a six-day working week to a five-day working week. And we kind of see the natural next step being the move to a four-day working week. And it’s not gonna happen overnight. It’s gonna have to be a transition to get there, you know, some say, it may take as long as a decade, but it feels like we’re at the kind of early pioneering start of that move. And I should say as well, some companies that have already moved to 40 weeks actually go below 32 hours. They go more to 30 hours or 28 hours. So it depends on, you know, on the different, the sector that you work in and the context going on. But they’re kind of gold standards as you say, its four days, 32 hours, no loss of pay.

Paul Heming: And so it’s really interesting talking about, you know, you’re almost picturing Victorian mentalities towards labor and work-life balance when you’re talking about that six-day working week. What actually was the catalyst? You’re talking about Covid being a bit of a catalyst now for a shift in mentalities. What happened 100 or so years ago when the decision was made? Six days is crazy. Let’s do five.

Joe Ryle: There was a couple of kind of like quite high profile examples. So in Boots in the UK, one of the first ever companies to do it, and they were quite a big company at the time, boots who still exist today, the cosmetics company. Also Ford Motor Company in the US. So, you know, manufacturing cars. They were kind of one of the first pioneering companies introduce it. And it was very quickly, very quickly was shown to not only improve the wellbeing of staff. They had more time for themselves, you know, had the whole weekend. It also improved productivity, you know, workers were actually working much better in the time they were doing and that actually Ford found as the company that they were actually working much more effectively. And so it spread from there really. And there was, you know, I should say there was a whole sort of massive campaign run by trade unions at the time as well. You know, the trade union movement was something they were backing. The other factor was that in the UK, they also put people, probably like to know this, they put the football on a Saturday at 3:00 PM, which is still the case now.

Paul Heming: Now we’re talking.

Joe Ryle: Most games on a Saturday are still at 3pm despite those kind of changing TV right times. But that was a big factor in kind of cementing Saturday as leisure time that that kind of football game on a Saturday at 3:00 PM and has cemented the idea that Saturday was a day of leisure rather than the day of work. And that was as, if you look back at historians, it was one of the kind of major factors in enabling that shift.

Paul Heming: Fantastic. So we just need to find another sport to put on Friday. Let’s get cricket on a Friday. I’m a big cricket fan, let’s get that on a Friday. But I’m a business owner. There’ll be lots of business owners listening. There’ll be lots of employees listening, employers listening. It’s interesting what you said about Ford there and they were working six days and doing, I guess 50 hours or ish and they moved to 40 hours, let’s say on a five-day schedule and actually increased productivity because it’s almost, what’s the nature of the conversation now, honestly hand to my heart being a business owner, being a bit of a, being a QS, being a bit of a stick in the mud. QS has been people who just are very sticklers for finances and so on and budgets. That’s kind of a role. It makes you think, ooh, could you really do in four days what you could previously have done in five? But I’m guessing with manufacturing, you know, talking production lines forward six to five, it was exactly the same perception, if not worse, right? Because you’d literally be looking at a production line and saying, we do X in an hour, so 50 hours a week versus 40 hours a week. Different kettle of fish, isn’t it? So I’m guessing all of those challenges and all those conversations which were successfully navigated 100 or so years ago and that Ford as a great example, looked at and became more productive. It’s almost like a case study for today. Right? And for the argument that you guys, or the campaign that you guys are running, are you gonna be more productive? Like, sell me the four-day working week.

Joe Ryle: Yes. I mean all the studies we’ve seen so far and that, you know, we’re in a much stronger position than we were a couple of years ago and now there’s been like, you know, so much, so many studies in trials of the four-day week across the world in many different countries and government led as well. And they’ve all shown that nine times out of 10 cases, not only as wellbeing going up but also productivity and you know, it’s not surprising that when you’re better rested and you’ve had that time for your extra times yourself, you come in and you’re able to perform in your job much more effectively, much more efficiently, but you’re much more motivated cause you’ve had that time off. You kind of enjoy the work more and that’s, that’s where a lot of these productivity gains come from. The other thing to say is that there has been, if we look at the last few decades, through automation, new technology, you know, productivity has gone up over the last few decades since in the seventies, eighties, nineties. But none of that’s really been passed on to workers in terms of more free time. So, in many ways, we’re long overdue and update to working hours. You know, workers are owed. We think workers are owed to 40, you know, for all of the time they put in over these last few decades. And yeah, we’ve seen numerous companies in numerous different settings from construction, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, you know, that have tried out a four-day week and yes, it’s still a relatively small number in the UK, but where they have tried it, you know, they have found it’s been a win-win for both the employer and the employee.

Paul Heming: And how, one of the first things that rolled off your tongue there was wellbeing as a metric improved with. How do you measure wellbeing? Is it just like, you’re doing surveys and the employees are saying, yeah, I feel great for whatever the better phrase.

Joe Ryle: Yeah, I mean that’s basically, essentially you measure it through staff surveys and whenever we’ve worked with companies that have trialed it, they’ll measure that at the beginning of the trial. So, but just before the trials begins, you’ve got the kind of base level and then you measure it halfway through, then you measure it at the end and you do that on a big enough scale of the staff and you can quite clearly see the impact it’s had on people’s wellbeing.

Paul Heming: And so you, you mentioned, I’m guessing like you, this campaign’s been going for five years still in terms of the bell curve of adoption, we must be really, really, really very much in that early adopter stage cause therein lies the challenge, isn’t it? It’s getting people to change it, proving that it works. I’m someone that would, I’d consider myself like a late early adopter to things like I still need to see some proof. I’m not that much of an innovator personally speaking that I’m right at the front of the queue. But interested to know. So, you mentioned as well that you guys are currently in the middle of the biggest, I think you mentioned 70 companies, the biggest trial in the world. Is that right?

Joe Ryle: Yeah. Well, the trial’s actually finished now. It was a six month trial finished in December. But we’re just processing the results at the moment. They’re gonna be out in a couple of weeks’ time actually. Yeah, probably, 21st of February, so quite soon.

Paul Heming: That probably chimes very well with the release date for this actually, but what does that, in that, are we gonna read? My assumption would be we’re gonna see that wellbeing has gone up and productivity has gone up as well for these companies. How would you measure the productivity? How is it being measured and captured that data so it’s something really tangible to work from?

Joe Ryle: Yeah, we’re looking, I can’t go into all the data yet cause they’re still being analyzed by a number of academics, but it is looking, the early signs that it’s looking like, yeah, wellbeing is improved dramatically for nearly all workers. Productivity has been, at least productivity or performance, you know, the performance of a business has been at least maintained or improved in many cases. For some that’s as simple as measuring revenue before the trial begins. And at the end for others, it depends on what their metric is. You know, it’s about what your business or your company measures a success, you know, what is the kind of output of your organization. And it’s different depending on the context on the sector. But the signs are very positive and it does look like the vast majority of firms that have taken part in the pilot have decided to continue with that, the end of the pilot. So it’s very positive.

Paul Heming: Is it something that you think is gonna happen? Are you like a firm but like its happening?

Joe Ryle: I think so. I think it will take a period of a decade. If you look at the shift from a six-day working week to five-day working week, it did take about a decade to kind of be rolled out across most of the economy. So, again, it’s not something that’s gonna happen overnight. But if we think about automation, new technology still to come, there is gonna be a diminishing amount of work anyway. And so in some respects, a shorter working week or a four-day week is inevitable because we’re gonna have to be more creative about sharing that diminishing level of work more equally across the economy. And most natural way to do that is to give people shorter working hours. And I do think we’re at the very early stage of, you know, the early pioneers, the hundreds of companies in the UK that have done it already and setting that kind of benchmark and standard to inspire others. And I think it’s gonna happen.

Paul Heming: As someone whose background is absolutely not construction, I guess what’s your perception of our industry to start with? How do you view us?

Joe Ryle: Well, I’ve got quite a few friends in the construction industry actually. And that was where some of these initial conversations started before we commissioned that piece of work. And I remember one of them saying to me really clearly, he was like, you know, it gets to a Thursday evening and I’m absolutely exhausted. You know, not just like mentally exhausted, but my body is physically exhausted and kind of battered. Battered, I think was the phrase you used.

Paul Heming: That sounds likely.

Joe Ryle: And I think he set up his own company now and he was talking about trying to set it up on a four-day week model. I don’t think it’s fully set up yet, but you know, he was saying that if he could have Fridays off then he’d be much more, so much better recovered physically by then coming back Monday. He was pretty sure he’d be able to get exact same amount of work done to a better standard and better quality of work as well over four days rather than five. And that kind of conversation started then. I’ve heard others say similar cause it is, I know it is a sector where working hours are extremely long. I think it’s some of the longest working hours of any kind of industry. And I think that’s why 40 week could be really interesting in the sector because there’s clearly problems that need to be addressed.

Paul Heming: Yeah, and there’s problems with construction. Again, things we’ve talked about on a regular basis over the last year or so on the podcast is record levels of poor mental health, record levels of suicide and record levels of vacancies in construction, i.e. the next generation aren’t running to construction as a sector that they wanted work in, which is kind of, I guess why I was asking that question. What was your perception of construction? Most people or many people don’t perceive it as a place that they want to work. And therefore to some degree, I almost wonder whether, and again this is would be highly ambitious, whether as an industry and we are talking right now constantly as an industry about the labor crisis, skills crisis, whether an ambitious way to tackle that would be to say as a sector, we’re moving to the four-day working week. And would that then be something which would attract the next generation? I think it probably would, it would show construction in a completely different light, I think.

Joe Ryle: Yeah, I think so. I think it could be incredible for the industry and I think as you say, I do think that’s where the strongest, there’s the strongest possible argument for four-day week in construction. It is the job vacancies, you know, there’s tens of thousands of job vacancies and the younger generation don’t seem to be coming into the sector and it is a really, really crucial industry. You know, we all need homes, we all need, you know, it’s really valuable work, it’s really physical work, but as well as the job vacancies, I know that it’s also an industry where workers are retiring much earlier than they do in other sectors. You know, I think they retire at le at least 10 years earlier than other sectors. It may even be more than that. And so if we’re thinking about also longevity, you know, in the industry then, then the four-day weeks massively going to help with that as well. Well, so I think there’s a really strong case, you know, where we have seen other firms and again separate from the production industry, but I think this would apply across where we have seen firms move to a four-day week with no loss of pay. You know, they’ve been inundated when it comes to job vacancies. There was one at some bank, the biggest kind of company in the UK to move to the four-day weeks so far. They were financial services sector, 500 staff. And in just three months after announcing they’d moved to a four-day week, they found that their job applications increased by 500%. You know, and I think you would start to see similar in the construction sector. So it does make sense.

Paul Heming: Fascinating stuff. I mean we’ve talked kind of in the first half of the show about like, almost a bit more broadly the benefits of the four-day working. I think everyone listening will now understand that after the break we’ll talk a bit more with a bit more focus if you like, on construction and actually how it might work. But we’ll do that right after the break.

Paul Heming: So, one of the things I’m going to do for everyone is actually put a link in the podcast description to this construction report four-day working week. I’m sure there’s lots of people who will want to read it and then go and wave it in front of their bosses. One of the things, well, there’s a few things that’s like stuck out to me if you like. There’s some great stats in there that will just make, when I read it I was like, yeah, that really resonates. So, construction workers are currently putting in more than five hours than the average worker in Britain. I think everyone who works in construction will fill that. And then British workers already spend considerably more time working than the rest of Europe. So working in Britain already means long hours. Working in construction means Uber long hours and I mean five hours over a 40-hour week is an extra 10%. So, we are already working a huge, huge amount. So that will resonate with everyone and everyone will feel like, yeah, that makes sense. Where I have reservations is kind of exactly that and maybe this is my old school stick in the mud as I would put it, mentality. If we are already working, not 40 hours working 45 cause there’s so much work to do, how on earth are we ever gonna do it in 32 hours?

Joe Ryle: Yeah, it’s a very good question. And you know, I think does need to be looked at across the sector as a whole, you know, I do think you do need the kind of industry bodies leading on this. You know, I’m gonna be honest, I’m not gonna have all the answers in terms of how this could be rolled out across the entire construction sector. I don’t think it’d be possible for me to have those, you know, I think there does need to be bigger conversations. But in the first, you know, some of it we have already touched upon. You know, there are natural productivity gains that do come from working less in terms of working more efficiently, working more effectively. The other part of it is, you know, obviously the job recruitment is an issue that will affect the house, how speedily work can get done and there’s not enough staff there. So if you can, if you can get a way to solving those issues, that will also help in terms of speeding up work. So that’s kind of second part. And the third part is, you know, it’s not something that can be implemented overnight. You know, it may be that in the construction sector, there needs to be a kind of more gradual approach to getting there. So maybe it’s a shorter working week in the first instance, you know, you kind of knock a couple of hours off the weekend, then you sort of slowly be able to getting there. It would depends for each kind of business and organization, whether they can make that work. And depending on the type of work when it comes in. I mean the issue you raised before, which is a big one, which is a lot of workers paid by hour, paid by the hour rather than on a project basis. And again, that will be something that needs to be looked at as an industry. You know, it is what blocks are currently in place that would prevent this from happening. And it’s one that applies to other sectors as well where, where workers are paid per hour, actually that presents a problem. Cause if you’re going down from 40 to 32 hours on the same pay, how do you do that? And part of the answer to that is kind of, you know, looking at changing contracts and the way people are paid and moving to a more project. Paid on a project, by project basis rather than a per hour basis. I know that a number of consultancy firms have worked that out and kind of changed the way they pay workers. So, if you’re talking about big wholescale change unit that have to be implemented with care and with time and you know, with agreement from many in the industry, there’s lots of different ways of doing it. Part of it is also just being more creative and strategic with rotor patterns. You know, you can have a businesses and a number of, there’s a number of four-day week companies already that exist like this where they kind of maintain the coverage of five days, but staff are only doing four days, 32 hours. So they’re being more creative the way they’re rotoring on and off. So there’s lots of different ways of doing it. I won’t have the answers for every single company, but hopefully there’s a bit of food for thought there.

Paul Heming: Yeah, no, that makes one of the things, so obviously this is all gonna be driven by, like you said, there’s multiple stakeholders in any sector, right? For construction, let’s make it really simple. You’ve got Tesco’s who say, oh, I want a new big Tesco’s. They then employ a main contractor. That main contractor then says, oh, I need a roofing company, a steel work company, etcetera, who then employ these subcontractors who are the people that are largely the operatives on site delivering the work. Now I’m unsure that Tesco’s would ever say, cause at the moment what is happening more and more, which is probably why we get these extra five hours in construction, is they say, right, we’re behind on program. So, guess what we’re gonna do? Six days a week. We’re now open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and we’ll open up Saturday morning until one o’clock or something like that. And we’ll use that to make sure we hit the program. If we are going to do a four-day working, actually think about, we’ve almost got to deal with the fact that we do a six-day working week on a lot of construction sites because we’re forgetting even that some people are paid by the hour, but actually 80 plus percent of projects finish late, even more finish over budget. And it would have to be the clients and yeah, it could be the government on government projects or whatever, actually saying, you know, to finish, if the program is 12 months, January to December, it is a struggle to finish that on five days. Can we really finish it on four? Cause we’re actually going five and a half in most. Do you see what I mean? There’s so many challenges in construction where I worry that it’s such a big moving beast that it would almost, it feels like there’s so many challenges to get a four-day working week, let alone even a five because we can’t do that. How does that make you feel?

Joe Ryle: No, I think it’s a really good example. And yeah, to use that example, you know, I think we’ve got to look at in the first instance, why for example, its work is being delayed and then people are saying it needs to be six days. Well, the five and my prediction would be that it’s actually not to do with the amount of hours being worked. My prediction would be it’s probably to do if some of the other issues that we’ve been talking about, you know, the lack of workers in the sector, the fact that workers are, you know, suffering with lots of physical, mental health problems, physically burnt out. You know, my prediction would be there probably.

Paul Heming: And the programs are probably rubbish initially. When I say it’s going to be January to December, it should probably be January to March in the first place. So it should be 15 months, not 12. There’s lots of things. It’s just that mentality of we’re late more hours. That’s our mentality as a sector, not less.

Joe Ryle: Yeah, exactly. And that needs to be transformed, you know, and that’s why the four-day week is for me quite exciting. Because we’re talking about transforming systems to make it, you know, work better for everyone. And you know, there’s a host of problems that hap that happens when you’re fatigued and your lack of sleep and your work, you know, and you’re overworked. That’s when accidents like, I’m sure that’s when, which then creates more delays. You know, that’s when people make mistakes and then that creates more delays. And I think we need to look at this, the entire system in its entirety and you know, we can do that with the construction sector and say what’s gonna be a better model for everyone and it is gonna be something more like a four-day working week or a shorter working week, but yeah, we need to be honest about its gonna take time to get there. It’s gonna be a lot of complex hurdles to work through to get the industry there. I mean, the one case that does exist in terms of case studies is a Rocco up in Scotland. They’re a construction company.

Paul Heming: A Rocco?

Joe Ryle: Yeah, they’re a construction company. They’ve moved to compressed hours four-day week, so it is the same hours rather than a kind of true four-day week. But I gather from speaking to them, you know, people often aren’t doing the four 40, so it’s getting on the way to a kind of four-day working week.

Paul Heming: So what? The extending hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, not gonna be on Friday.

Joe Ryle: Exactly. So, and they found that having that extra Friday off is still bringing about some of those benefits in terms of physical health. I still think 40 hours is too much. You know, we think 40 hours is too much, but I think you can start to see there’s some case studies for, and that’s all that we were, you know, the report that was out that made, that was talking about all these stats around it, you know, that that was what it was calling for. At this stage, we need to see more experimentation, we need to see more trials and pilots of this to work through some of these problems that come up as they arise. You know, I think in the very short term, there’s nothing stopping the construction sector from getting on with that. It could even just run a trial in part of the business. It doesn’t even need to be the whole business or run it as a trial on one project and see how that works. You know, we need to see more pilots, we need to see more evidence in the sector to see how it could work, you know, on a much wider scale.

Paul Heming: It’s got to come top down on a project site. I’m a subcontractor. I was. We couldn’t adopt a four-day working week unless the main contractor said, yeah, you can do that. And the main contractor wouldn’t do it unless the client said it. So, unless Tesco said, yeah, we’re a four-day working week project, we’re gonna do a trial, let’s see how it goes, which is unlikely from a Tesco, but maybe a government project, right? So a government project, they’ve done it with other things where they’ve piloted X to see if it would be transformational.

Joe Ryle: No, I was going to say exactly that. You know, I think it does need to come from, it does need to be that top level engagement and buy-in to make it happen. And we’ve been, as part of the campaign calling for the government to launch funding for a range of different pilots across different industries as well.

Paul Heming: Both political, major political parties in the UK right now rabbiting on at equal levels about growth, growth, growth, growth and growth in the economy for all the reasons that we know and we’re not gonna talk about. Could the four-day working week be a catalyst for that? And is there any positive conversations like positive developments from either of the big parties who are saying, yeah, this could be the thing that drives us to the growth that we want, for example.

Joe Ryle: There’s definitely hints of encouragement. Yeah, I mean, you know, we’ve talked for decades in this country about the productivity puzzle and tried all the usual methods. But actually, if you look at the data, we, we worked some the longest hours in Europe as a country, as the UK while having one of the least productive economies. So, all these long work –

Paul Heming: Crazy, isn’t it?

Joe Ryle: All these long working hours we’re putting in are not making us very productive. You look at, you know, countries like France or Sweden or Germany, they work less hours and they’re much more productive. So, we’ve got to try something different.

Paul Heming: Cricket on a Friday, we’ve agreed it. Signed off on it.

Joe Ryle: I think cricket on a Friday is not a bad shot. I’m not that into cricket, but I could get into –

Paul Heming: No one is, but this will make them like it. So, it’s a double win.

Joe Ryle: But there is hints of encouragement. We know that there’s various senior members of the labor shadow cabinet that supported a four-day week. I would say the government is not something they’re actively exploring, but it’s not something they’re actively resisting either, which was definitely more the case a couple of years ago where there’s kind of active resistance from the kind of conservative party in government. And we’ve seen that change, which I think is good. It does feel like we’re winning the argument for sure to work. It doesn’t seem to be much pushback. And I think, you know, when we can show that it’s a win-win for both employers and employees, you know, you do have to ask a question, what’s not to like about that?

Paul Heming: Yeah. And if, you know, quite like your alliteration of productivity puzzle, right? If we are so unproductive, and this is basically being said like, we need to grow, we need to grow, we’re unproductive, how do we grow, right? Loads of different ways that you could theoretically do it, but if you were to have exactly the same productivity as a nation, Monday to Thursday and an extra day for everyone to go to the shops, everyone to go to the sport, you know, all those different things that would have a massive impact on those sectors and the economy as a whole, right? It’s quite, I actually hadn’t thought about it in the context of growth and all the current conversations that going on, but actually, it feels like almost blindingly obvious. If you can prove that you would get the same level of productivity, it could be the way to stimulate growth, right?

Joe Ryle: I mean, it would be brilliant on that. Let’s say everyone had a Friday off, you know, it’d be brilliant for the hospital hospitality sectors, the creative sectors also for, you know, people. Lots of people would spend their time volunteering as well, and that could have a really big impact on society and mental health, physical health, which then brings savings in terms of NHS and reducing the pressure on NHS. So, you can start to see the kind of better society that’s created when it’s implemented at that scale.

Paul Heming: You’re getting me more and more sold. You’re getting me more, so the trouble is, here’s the trouble. I’m getting sold on a macro level. I’m really starting to think, okay, that could make, if that’s what we all did, it would be brilliant. But then on a micro level, I’m still thinking that’s a big change I would’ve to make in my business. How do I do it? Should I do it? Why would I do it right now? Maybe I won’t do it. If you were to give advice to the managing director of a construction business right now, what advice would you give them?

Joe Ryle: So, I’d first say, well, first let’s just say we are about to launch a national rollout program to support companies to do it. So look out for that because we’ll kind of support companies through that and we’ll hold your hand through the process. But firstly, I’d say don’t overthink it. You know, there’s a trend that happens where people try and overthink every single possible eventuality to every single employee and how is it gonna happen and every single day, how it’s gonna work out. And I’d say, don’t do that. You know, follow the evidence that exists. Do consult with staff to ensure that they’re properly consulted in terms of their hopes and fears, but just, you know, give it a go. There’s nothing stopping a business from trialing it for six months and then going back to the five-day working week if it doesn’t work out. I would say give it a go and it could be done, as I said, it could be done on a much smaller scale. It could be done on just on one project to see how it works on one project. But it does feel like we are more and more confident. The four-day week is going to be the future of work and if there’s many other sectors who are starting to, and we are starting to see some sectors really leaving the way on this. And there is a real danger of the construction sector being left behind. I would say at this stage, kind of tech sector, a lot of the financial services sector accountancy, kind of charity and NGO sector, consultancy.

Paul Heming: Like a lot of tertiary sectors almost.

Joe Ryle: Yeah. You know, and as you say, if they’re offering to younger generation a better work-life balance, then people are gonna more likely going to go to those sectors and something there is a danger of sectors, like constructing sector being left behind. And so I think if the construction sector wants to be seen as being defined as the future of work and being part of this future of work, then it’s definitely something you’ve got to be at least exploring and what’s the worst that can happen in a six month trial? Even a three month trial, you know. Some companies just tried it for three months and give it a go and then, you know, you can take decision after that. But yeah.

Paul Heming: You know, you’re talking about you would hold our hands through that process. How would you measure it? How would you, like, is it a case of you kind of like you have all these templates, you do the surveys, etcetera, and then at the end of it you would have something really, really simple to look at. You know, you cut your employees 20% happier today than they were three months ago and productivity is, I don’t know, the same.

Joe Ryle: Exactly that, yeah. We measured by, you know, either academics or consultants can come in and help with that or we can come in and help with that and just, you know, we’d set, get the baseline measurement, you know, what are you hoping to achieve at the end of these three months and yeah, you’d look at productivity beforehand, you look at productivity afterwards and you very quickly can see whether it’s had any impact. And usually in most cases, productivity is maintained, but in many cases actually productivity improved and workers being more effective in four days rather than five.

Paul Heming: It’s fascinating. I’m a personal experience, personal, the way I am is I feel like I would like to see a little bit more data, a little bit more data relevant to my business. Sounds like there’s about to be another big tranche if you like this data set that you’re gonna have combat now. I think it’s really exciting. One of the things I’m worried about with construction, and I love to put a blocker in and another reason why it wouldn’t be adopted is the difference between the blue collar and the white collar in construction, in that one is very site based, one is not very site based. And I think in the same way, you can make a compelling argument and a simple argument if you like, for the four-day working week for IT companies, for accountancy firms, those companies, those sectors that you said are jumping beyond. I think you could make it quite easily for quantity surveyors, for the office staff, let’s say construction companies, whether you could make it as easily for the blue collar, which is bizarre considering they’re the ones doing all the heavy lifting, literally. But I think that’s where we will struggle as a sector, which I think if you actually take a step back is ridiculous, but I think we would struggle there and therefore, because you wouldn’t want to give it to the office staff and not the site staff, you end up giving it to no one is how I can imagine people or it would play out. What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?

Joe Ryle: I think that’s a fair assessment. You know, I mean, first I think the case four or four-day week, as you say, is stronger for blue collar workers rather than white collar workers. You know, in terms of the overwork, in terms of the physicality. But you know, it’s got to be, it can’t be a policy that pits workers against each other. You know, it can’t be implemented longer term in one section of a business, not the other section of a business. And it has to be something that, you know, at its heart, the four-day week is about a better work-life balance for everyone. And so it needs to be implemented on that basis. It needs to try and include everyone and you know, I think otherwise, you run into problems and we’ve just seen that with South Cambridge or district council actually, where they initially announced a six, the first kind of public authority to move to four-day week and they’ve done a three month trial for office space staff and they’re just about to span that. They’re just working on how they’re gonna do it, span that to all staff, including the bin men, the bin women in June. So, that’s the way to do it really, is to ensure that everyone is included in that process.

Paul Heming: Yeah, it’s fascinating stuff. You know, the more I talk to you, the more I think about the problems that we face project by project as an industry, the more I think there is really, really tangible solutions actually that could solve the productivity. Plus I’ve stolen that phrase, could reduce accidents, could help us get many, many more young people into the sector, make it in many ways an exciting sector already, but, you know, take away some of those stigmas and just kind of stand out from the crowd. I just think it has to be led by the government or industry bodies to say, we recognize this is the challenge that we’re facing, skills crisis, etcetera. This is a solution, let’s try it. Otherwise, it’s very difficult for the smaller companies to say to their big clients, screw you, we’re gonna do this.

Joe Ryle: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think it does need to be, but it will come from those, it will be those smaller companies that will be the pioneers that will do it first. You know, they’ll try it out and then the industry bodies will get everyone together and hopefully, come up with a much bigger plan. I mean one idea could be to also, you know, you’re talking about the younger generation could be to run a program where younger workers can come in and work in the sector on a 40 week. That could be one way of doing it as a starting point to see whether that attracts younger workers and that’s another program that could potentially exist. So yeah, it will not be implemented across the construction sector on a company by company basis. It will have to be industry body led. I agree with that. And that just will take time. But in the meantime, you know, we really need to see more experimentation.

Paul Heming: And I think, we will do. How can our listeners and how can I easily keep up to date or easily get access? Where can we follow to get access to like this big trench of data that’s coming out on the 21st of Feb? So really, really soon, like where do we follow you? Like how could like business leaders, employees, employers see the data.

Joe Ryle: So, on our website it says fourdayweek.co.uk and that’s the number four rather than spelled out. We’ll have the pilot results up there on Tuesday, 21st of February. There’s also the report on our website as well in terms of how a four-day week could work in the construction sector, the feasibility of that. So, I’d recommend reading that too. But yeah, we’re on social media as well, but pip stuff we publish on our website.

Paul Heming: I’m going to put both the website and the report in the podcast description. You’ve changed the way I view things. I’m getting there, which is progress. I mean, that’s really tangible progress. So that is, that you should be very happy with that, Joe, that you’ve shifted the dial a little bit, but thank you very much for coming on the show. I think it’s been awesome episode. I’ve taken a lot from it. I’m sure the listeners have and I will share all your details and I will be keeping in touch, Joe, because I think that there’s something in it and hopefully, it can be a bit of a catalyst.

Joe Ryle: Great. You can have me back on once you move to a four-day week.

Paul Heming: There we go. He’s laid down a challenge, hasn’t he? I hope none of my employees listen to this, otherwise I’m in big, big trouble. But yeah, absolutely Joe, I will speak to you soon mate. Thank you for coming on the show.

Joe Ryle: Take care. Thank you.

Paul Heming: Cheers mate. Bye-Bye.

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