Pimlico Plumbers founder slams four-day week as UK firms begin trial

‘The economy is in a bad way, we’ve got a war on, strikes on… and people want to work LESS’: Pimlico Plumbers founder slams four-day week as 70 UK firms begin six-month trial to let staff to have an extra day off for same pay

  • More than 3,000 workers across 70 companies are starting a four-day week trial
  • Campaigners say move will improve work-life balance and boost productivity
  • Businesses joining include fish and chip shop, brewery, medical and tech firms
  • Staff will be given full pay for 80 per cent of their time and 100 per cent output
  • Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins told MailOnline the pilot is ‘ridiculous’

The founder of London’s largest independent plumbing company has slammed a pilot scheme for a four-day week on full pay.  

Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins called the pilot ‘ridiculous’ and said that it is sending the wrong message to workers. 

More than 3,000 workers across 70 companies started the world’s biggest pilot scheme today, as the nation struggles with more job vacancies than staff available. 

The programme is being coordinated by campaign group 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy and academics at Oxford, Cambridge and Boston College in the US.

There are a range of businesses and charities taking part, including the Royal Society of Biology, hipster London brewery Pressure Drop, Southampton computer game developer Yo Telecom, a Manchester medical devices firm, and a fish and chip shop in Norfolk. 

Pressure Drop brewery in Tottenham, North London, is one of the businesses in the trial 

Staff will be given 100 per cent pay for 80 per cent of their time — but they have made a commitment to produce 100 per cent of their usual output.

However some critics say the concept would be impossible in customer facing jobs, or 24/7 operations including where overtime payments would present an extra cost to employers or the taxpayer.

Mr Mullins told MailOnline if workers are able to condense five days of work into four, then they ‘weren’t really doing five days work before’.

He said: ‘Now they’ll be doing three days worth of work.

‘People just want to get paid for doing nothing. Long term, this isn’t going to work and we’re going to suffer badly.’

Mr Mullins said that more workers want to ‘do less’, and that a four-day week is ‘inviting people to do nothing’.

‘The economy is in a bad way, we’ve got a war on, strikes on, and people want to do less work and be paid for five days.

‘It’s an impossibility — five into four doesn’t go.’

The businessman was also concerned that condensing work could lead to overworking, and accidents in some industries.

He added: ‘Anyone that runs a business will have to more staff.’

Critics of the four-day week have suggested that loosing a day and condensing work into 80 per cent of the time could impact human interactions at work, and lead to colleagues being emailed when they are out of office.

Brendan Burchell, a sociology professor at University of Cambridge, said that many people in the office are happiest when they have interactions with their colleagues.

‘It’s really important for them to have those coffees or water-cooler conversations with their colleagues,’ the professor, who has been studying the 4 Day Week Global trials, told Wired.

British businessman Charlie Mullins (pictured) called the pilot ‘ridiculous’ and said that it is sending the wrong message to workers

Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co-founder at Casted, an amplified marketing platform, said that her customer and sales team have to attend to the needs of clients five-days-a-week.

‘They’re going to take that call, answer that email and solve that problem five days a week,’ she told Forbes.

Eric Harkrader, who had been working at US digital consultancy Elephant Ventures when it launched a four-day week, said that he was ‘a vegetable’ after condensing his workload.

‘Thursday nights were order pizza, stare at the TV and just drool,’ he told Wired.

Critics of four-day weeks have said that burnout is a possible issue for staff, if they have to cram 100 per cent of their work into 80 per cent of their time.

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the BCC, said: ‘A four-day working week is an interesting proposition and shows again how firms are looking to be innovative and offer more flexible opportunities for their staff.

Public sector workers in Scotland will be offered a FOUR-DAY week in exchange for pay cut as SNP tries to plug £3.5billion black hole 

Scottish civil servants could be offered a four-day work week with reduced pay to tackle the nation’s soaring public sector bill.

The plans were published alongside a spending review by the Scottish Government, which aims to plug an estimated £3.5billion blackhole, on Wednesday.

The move presents an ‘opportunity’ to reduce spending on salaries, officials said — but the Scottish Conservatives branded it a ‘fantasy’.

It comes after Boris Johnson warned Britain’s civil servants they must endure the same cost-cutting as families up and down the country as he defended his pledge to axe 91,000 of their jobs.

The Scottish Government said it is looking into developing ‘non-pay benefits’, including the four-day week.

It said: ‘In the longer term, this could be an opportunity to limit the cost burden of pay awards to employers.’

Critics said reducing Scottish public sector workers’ hours would see a 20 per cent cut in capacity for Scotland’s public services. 

Unions previously campaigned for a four-day work week that maintains pay levels, arguing reduced hours would increase productivity.

Cat Boyd, the national officer for the PCS union, said the new plans to reduce pay in line with hours are ‘ill-considered and frankly insulting’.

She told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Our members shouldered the burden of austerity in 2010.

‘Now, we’re seeing threats of further pay cuts for the workers who helped keep Scotland running during the pandemic. 

‘Any proposal which includes a further loss of pay coupled with a cut in hours represents more broken promises from the Scottish Government when it comes to their own staff.’

Around 30,000 of 585,400 public sector jobs in Scotland will have to be cut to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to estimates.

Kate Forbes, the SNP finance secretary, said is is ‘not sustainable’ to continue increasing public sector staffing.

Scotland has already pledged £10million pounds to private companies trialling four-day weeks where workers retain their pay levels.

A similar public sector scheme is set to be rolled out later this year, with details not yet published. 

But Liz Smith, the finance spokeswoman for the Scottish Tories, described the plans as ‘cavalier economics’ that would derail public services post-pandemic.

She said ‘SNP ministers are determined to press ahead with this nonsense’, which would further increase the spending black hole. 

‘Increasing productivity and helping people better balance their work-life commitments makes good business sense. But the potential trade-offs needed to make the 4-day week successful may not suit everyone in the workplace. Ultimately, every employer must decide what works best for the business and its employees.

‘In most cases, adopting flexible working practices is a good way to support employees. From job sharing to hybrid working – it can have a big impact on morale, attendance and productivity as well as boosting staff recruitment and retention.’

A trial of the four-day working week in France found workers were putting in the same amount of hours even with a day fewer and companies were having to pay them for their extra time.

Some economists have argued that working fewer hours would decrease the standard of living and the leader of one of Spain’s main business associations has previously described it as ‘madness’. 

It comes as airlines struggle to recruit enough staff to manage the spring travel demand and upcoming summer holiday pressures. 

The transport industry has been struggling with a shortage of lorry drivers that has been ongoing since last year — impacting the supply chain. 

And industry experts have warned that shoppers could struggle to get their hands on their favourite fruit and vegetables this summer due to a shortage of seasonal crop pickers.

Julian Marks, MD of food and farming company Barfoots, told industry magazine The Grocer that the situation was getting ‘pretty desperate’.

‘Ultimately, if it can’t be harvested there will be gaps on shelves,’ he warned. 

Some areas of the UK are currently missing as much as 75 per cent of their seasonal workforce, raising fears produce will be left to rot in the ground.

The issue has been blamed on Brexit, as a large number of seasonal crop pickers traditionally come from the EU, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and delays in issuing temporary visas have been blamed.

Earlier this year, a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said as of August last year the sector had ‘potentially in excess of 500,000 job vacancies’. 

Industry experts warned that staff shortages ranged from 30 per cent in Worcestershire to 50 per cent in the East of England to 75 per cent in other areas. 

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it had already relaxed visa entry requirements for season workers – following issues last year- and was working at attracting UK workers to the sector. 

The number of lorry drivers in Britain has plunged by 53,000 over the past four years with the fall the largest among middle-aged hauliers, official figures revealed last year. 

It created an acute problem in 2021, but this number is now stabilising, after a lot of work from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to catch up on the testing backlog, which expanded during covid restrictions.

Government intervention also meant that drivers are being trained and tested quicker.

In airports, Brits are facing a summer of chaos amid chronic staffing shortages and IT glitches.

Shocking scenes from around the country in recent weeks have shown holidaymakers stuck in huge queues with some forced to sleep on the floor of airports amid long delays.

Industry chiefs have pointed the finger at mass layoffs during the pandemic which saw staff let go because of the collapse in demand for travel during the various lockdowns.

Airlines are now struggling to rehire workers previously let go, leading to a shortage of security staff, ground handlers and check-in staff.

Industry sources say staffing levels are around 80 to 90 per cent of where they need to be for the peak summer season at larger airports and about 70 per cent at smaller ones.

Some workers have also decided to quit the industry and not return following the pandemic, it has been suggested.

Another issue has been the vetting of new staff, with background checks taking several weeks.

Unions and aviation chiefs say the security check backlog could be approaching 20,000 applications. 

Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, previously said that Covid travel restrictions led to a ‘destruction of talent through job losses’.  

Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network, said: ‘In my opinion, it could be up to 12 months before we see staffing at airports back to pre-pandemic levels. 

‘Recruitment for people at airports takes longer than roles elsewhere because of necessary, additional security and background checks.

BRISTOL AIRPORT: Holidaymakers and commuters flying from Bristol once again endure lengthy queues this morning

STANSTED AIRPORT:  Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, previously said that Covid travel restrictions led to a ‘destruction of talent through job losses’

‘Routine recruitment campaigns ground to halt during the pandemic and have been slow to start again as international travel has had a number of restrictions on it until recently. 

‘That means the recruitment pipeline was cut off and needs to be re-established.’ 

Meanwhile, the UK is facing a labour shortage, with more vacancies than workers available to fill them. This has led to suggestions that potential airport staff recruits are unwilling to accept lower wages and more demanding roles.

The issue has also been seen in the hospitality industry, with thousands of workers not returning to their jobs after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Many had found new employment, and large portions of foreign staff returned to their home countries when as a result of the pandemic and tightening immigration rules. 

‘When the last lockdown came along, a lot of our European staff had a chance to go home for Christmas, which they have never previously been able to do because they have to work,’ said Richard Green, owner of the 28-50 chain of upmarket wine bars and restaurants.

‘Many of them went back to Romania, or Poland, or Bulgaria, and when they got there they found out that these are not the places they left five years ago. They’ve developed enormously. It means lots of them have decided to stay [in their homelands].’

Others felt that anti-social hours spent pulling pints, waiting tables, or toiling over hot stoves, were no longer appealing. 

This started a wage rise in the sector last year, with waiters’ pay rising from around £11 to almost £15 an hour, plus tips, while some kitchen staff are commanding salaries a third higher than before Covid struck.

Across various industries, employers are struggling to attract and retain staff, with employees looking for other non-paid benefits, such as working from home, flexible hours, or a four-day week. 

The work from home debate has largely been focused on civil servants, after the Government launched a push to get employees back into the offices as regularly as possible. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that cutting down on remote working would boost productivity and revive the UK’s town and city centres.

But unions say they will ‘resist indiscriminate demands from the Government for civil servants’ return to office-based working’, arguing that staff can work efficiently from home and that ‘work is no longer a place, but what is done’.

Figures revealed last month show the UK now tops the table of nations where workers would rather quit or find a new job than return to the office five days a week.  

The four-day week has been supported by the SNP, which hopes to explore ‘non-pay’ benefits of a reduced working week.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also backed the idea, having been announced by then shadow chancellor John McDonnell at Labour Party conference in September 2019.

The team of researchers involved in the new pilot will study each company and assess the impact on staff, including stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use, travel.

They will also look gender equality, with the four-day week thought to benefit women, who make up a higher proportion of part-time and flexible-hours staff. 


Kirsty Wainwright, 34, the general manager at Norfolk fish and chip shop Platten’s said that long hours in the hospitality industry push up staff shortages

Kirsty Wainwright, 34, the general manager at Norfolk fish and chip shop Platten’s said that long hours in the hospitality industry push up staff shortages.

The mother-of-two already works a four-day week and is confident the roll-out to all staff will be a success.

‘The hospitality industry has really unsociable working hours and it needs to change,’ she said.

‘It’s not surprising the industry has been struggling with recruitment given the excessively long working hours.

‘On a five day week I didn’t get to see my kids enough. Spending more time with my kids is the best thing about a four-day week. It’s amazing.

‘Having that extra rest and not feeling exhausted means I can be more productive at work too.’

Wyatt Watts, 25, team leader at Platten’s, said that working in the hospitality industry can be ‘very strenuous.’

‘When I first heard we were going to be working less hours with the same pay I thought to myself what’s the catch, it sounds too good to be true,’ he said.

‘Morale has improved and we’re hoping that our productivity at work is going to be higher, meaning that stuff can get done quicker.

‘Having a four-day week has left me feeling a lot more positive about staying and working in the industry.’

Luke Platten, the company’s director, said that the decision aligns with company values to provide a ‘win-win’ for everyone.    

Some experts have warned a productivity rise may not happen, with some critics saying that it will lead to more stress as employees attempt to squeeze more work into fewer hours, and leave firms with higher costs.

Tony Wilson, director for the Institute for Employment Studies said in an earlier interview that firms ‘will have to do a whole lot of other things to get productivity improvements’.

The pandemic has seen more employees working from home and adopting more flexible hours instead of the usual nine-to-five, five-day working week.

Joe O’Connor, the chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, said the country is at the crest of a wave of global momentum behind the four-day week.


Wyatt Watts, 25, team leader at Platten’s said he thought trial sounded ‘too good to be true’

‘As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognising that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge.   

‘The impact of the ‘great resignation’ is now proving that workers from a diverse range of industries can produce better outcomes while working shorter and smarter.’

Major companies that have tried out a four-day week but are not part of the trial include Unilever, Panasonic and Atom Bank —which was the biggest employer to make the change in November last year.

Mark Downs, CEO of the Royal Society of Biology, said he decided to take part in the trial to see if the change could help attract staff in an ‘incredibly competitive’ labour market.

His organisation will remain open five days a week, with staff either having the Monday or the Friday off.

Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, who are participating in the pilot, said that moving to a four-day week seems like a ‘natural step’.

‘We have long been a champion of flexible working, but the pandemic really moved the goalposts in this regard,’ he said.

‘The 20th-century concept of a five-day working week is no longer the best fit for 21st-century business. 

‘We firmly believe that a four-day week with no change to salary or benefits will create a happier workforce and will have an equally positive impact on business productivity, customer experience and our social mission.’

Mr Siegel said that is is ‘proud’ that his firm is ‘one of the first banks in the UK to embrace the four-day week’ and hopes it will put the company ‘on the right side of history’. 

Similar experiments are due to be held in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, while Government-backed trials are starting in Spain and Scotland this week.   

Where did the five-day week come from? 

Prior to the Great Depression, 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. Sunday was already a work-free day due to its holy status in Christianity.

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.  

Australian online learning company Yarno launched the four-day week as a start-up, but found that the approach had failed two years on. 

Managing director Lachy Gray wrote in a blog post that it didn’t work as well as planned, with some staff able to take Fridays off after completing their work, while others found themselves booking meetings and liaising with clients.

He said that while the firm ended the four-day week, he would like to revisit the concept in the future.  

Several ‘influencer’ agencies are already operating a four-day working week, including Engage Hub, whose employees will have either a Wednesday or a Friday off, rotating every eight weeks.

In marketing, where jobs often offer higher salaries, workers deal with heavy workloads and competition, with many people working up to 60 hours a week.

Sam O’Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at performance marketing platform Affise, said: ‘Those working in marketing can have the stress of competitors and keeping up to date with the digital world, which has not been easy during the course of the pandemic.

‘The effects of the past two years have resulted in many extra hours spent isolated, at home, and looking at computer screens while sitting in uncomfortable chairs- extremely bad for both your mental health, vision and posture.’

During the pandemic, it was believed that introducing a four-day working week would boost high street sales by an estimated £58billion, according to Affise.

This is because three-day weekends would give shoppers 20 per cent more time to buy, and see an expected spending increase related to hobbies, gardening and DIY.


The Royal Society of Biology will also allow staff to work four days rather than the usual five, while Ed Siegel, CEO of Charity Bank, said that he is ‘proud’ that his firm is ‘one of the first banks in the UK to embrace the four-day week’

Mr O’Brien added: ‘Starting a business takes a lot of time, energy, money, and creativity, and opting for a four-day week is one way many businesses choose to reduce expenses.’

Matthew Percival, CBI Programme Director for Changing Workforce, said that work organisation has to meet business needs.

‘Some will want to test the impact of a 4-day week on productivity and attracting and retaining employees, but there are also lots of other ways that firms are innovating to tackle labour shortages,’ he said.

‘Each firm needs to find the approach that’s right for the business and their workers.’

In August 2019, Microsoft Japan implemented a four-day week giving their 2,300 employees five Fridays off in a row.

The company said productivity jumped 40 per cent, meetings were more efficient, and workers – who were also happier – took less time off.

Nine out of ten employees at the company said they preferred the shorter working week and other benefits, including a 23 per cent reduction in weekly electricity use, and a 59 per cent decrease in the number of pages printed by employees, which were also welcomed by employers.

The trial, led by 4 Day Week Global, will see staff members from different organisations completing the usual amount of work, and up to 35 hours each week, but split over four days rather than five. Pictured, Commuters in London 

Mr O’Connor said: ‘More and more businesses are moving to productivity focused strategies to enable them to reduce worker hours without reducing pay.

‘We are excited by the growing momentum and interest in our pilot program and in the four-day week more broadly.

‘The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are ‘at work’, to a sharper focus on the output being produced. 2022 will be the year that heralds this bold new future of work.’

In Iceland, a four day working week trial was carried out between 2015 and 2019 and labelled an ‘overwhelming success’ by researchers.

Pros and cons of a four-day week 

Pros:

  • 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

 Cons:

  • 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

Workplaces that took part, including at Reykjavík City Council which ran the trial, moved from 40 hour weeks to 36 or 35 hours with some reporting an improved level of productivity among employees.

The trial eventually involved more than 2,500 workers, equal to approximately 1 per cent of Iceland’s workforce.

The workplaces included preschools, offices, hospitals and social service providers.

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: ‘This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success.

‘It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.’

In February, Belgian workers were given the right to a four day week, and have to condense their work to fit the time.

Some critics were concerned that it would lead to people working longer hours on the four days, in order to complete their work.

A four-day week was tested in Sweden in 2015 but prompted mixed results, with the experiment also facing criticism over its cost. 

Politicians felt that it would be too expensive to implement widely and the proposal went no further. 

German employers have trialled the idea in start-ups and smaller firms, with the idea popular among the workforce, who already have an average working week of 34.2 hours.

The five-day week began in the UK in 1934, after John Boot, chairman of Boots the chemist adopted the change to reduce staff redundancies. 

In the 19th century, people who worked in factories only had Sundays off.

The UK companies taking part in four-day week scheme from tech firms, recruitment consultancies to charities: 

5 Squirrels – Healthcare

Adzooma – Tech 

AKA Case Management – Domiciliary Care 

Allcap Limited – Industrial & construction supplies 

Amplitude – Creative Marketing Agency

Bedrock Learning – EdTech (Primary and Secondary Education) 

Bookishly – Gift 

Boom Studios – Creative & Cultural 

Charity Bank – Financial Services (Banking) 

Comcen – IT 

Eurowagens – Automotive 

Everledger – Technology

Evolution Money Limited – Financial Services 

Future Talent Learning – Online Education 

Girling Jones – Recruitment

Happy – Learning 

Helping Hands – Housing/Health and Social Care 

Hutch – Games 

IE Brand – Digital & Branding 

Literal Humans – Marketing / Advertising 

Loud Mouth Media – Digital Marketing

Merthyr Valley Homes Limited – Housing 

MOX – Advertising 

NeatClean – Consumer Goods 

Our Community – Technology & Training 

Outcomes Based Healthcare – Healthcare

Outcomes First Group – Care and Education services

Platten’s Fish and Chips – Hospitality

Pressure Drop Brewing – Brewing / manufacturing 

Rivelin Robotics – Software / Manufacturing

Royal Society of Biology – Charity 

Salamandra.uk – Animation 

Scotland’s International Development Alliance – Charity 

Secure Digital Exchange Ltd – IT 

Sensat – Software Start Up 

Sounds Like These – Media

Stellar Asset Management – Financial Services 

Stemettes – Charity

The Story Mob – Public Relations / Comms

Timberlake Consultants Ltd / TLKE Ltd – Software Training Consultancy

Trio Media – Digital Marketing 

Tyler Grange – Environmental Consulting 

Unity – Public Relations / Comms

Waterwise – Environmental campaigning organisation (not4profit)

We Are Purposeful – Not for profit 

Yo Telecom – Telecommunications Southampton 

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