IS A FOUR-DAY WEEK THE FUTURE OF WORK?
Mason & Dale - Long-form blog post
Have you heard the recent buzz around the office? Gather around the water cooler, for the rumours are true - a four-day workweek could be on the way shortly. Organisations have had two years to think about how they operate, including how many hours and days they require workers to work. Is it really worth it to work four days a week? Let's have a look at the potential pluses and minuses.
We all enjoy a three-day weekend, and bank holidays are usually a cause for excitement. The five-day workweek has become a cultural norm, particularly in the UK, but is it time to re-evaluate this policy after two years of seismic change? If so, will businesses continue to thrive? Or would production suffer as a result?
In this post, we'll look at:
The justification for a four-day workweek and how it might work
The financial benefits of working a four-day week
The potential disadvantages of switching to a four-day workweek
It's no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work in the UK, with many companies forced to close their offices and work from home virtually overnight – if you'll pardon the pun.
Furthermore, the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as well as the problem of managing home-schooling, has forced many businesses to provide flexible working arrangements in the previous year.
We've seen more and more debates around work-life balance and businesses reconsidering their 'normal working week' because of the unexpected change to working from home and a rise in hybrid working.
"Would you consider changing your company's working hours to a four-day working week?" Reed questioned their LinkedIn followers. With 919 votes, 50% said yes, but with the same hours, 33% said yes, but with fewer hours, 12% said no, and 6% said they would consider it, but not at this time. With 83% of respondents surveyed in favour of a four-day workweek, businesses must weigh several factors before choosing whether this is a course of action they are willing to pursue.
What are the advantages of working four days a week?
A four-day workweek can be characterised in two ways. The first is when an employee works full-time hours (usually 35) over four days. The second option is to reduce an employee's work hours (usually to 28 hours) over four days so that they can have a three-day weekend.
Many say that, while the five-day workweek was effective in the 19th Century, it no longer meets the needs of today's professional, particularly in current times. It was created in a period when industrial work was the norm and extracting as much as possible from workers was the goal. People would get up, go to work, complete their tasks, and then return home.
Some day-to-day tasks have become much more time-efficient as a result of technological advancements, and with an increase in office-based roles, we are witnessing an argument that longer work hours do not necessarily mean employees are more productive.
In particular, numerous countries around the world, including Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Spain, and, most recently, Iceland, have experimented with the four-day workweek to see how it affects their employees.
Microsoft tested four-day weeks in its Japanese headquarters and discovered that the shorter workweek resulted in more effective meetings, happier employees, and a huge 40% increase in output. Similarly, Iceland conducted a trial that tracked employees working fewer hours across a variety of public-sector workplaces and found it to be a success, with 86% of the country's workforce now working shorter weeks at the same salary.
Many British businesses have also experimented with the four-day week notion, hoping to produce the same level of productivity in fewer hours of work, and some have even made the changeover permanent. Radioactive Public Relations, in Gloucestershire, experimented with a four-day workweek for six months and discovered that the business was more profitable, and employees' sick days were cut in half. Long-winded spreadsheets, for example, are no longer required, and paperwork is a thing of the past thanks to cloud HR software.
A four-day workweek is one conceivable alternative, as technology would allow businesses to continue operating as usual while humans might still have fulfilling careers with a better work/life balance. The call for a four-day workweek is an attempt to provide the framework for this transition by ensuring that employees, not only businesses, benefit from new technology. Something that Mason & Dale Recruitment wholeheartedly supports.
What are the benefits of working four days a week?
Large and small businesses that have tried out the concept have compiled proof of the benefits a four-day workweek could offer to your company.
A rise in productivity levels
Working fewer hours has proved to increase productivity, which may seem counterintuitive to some. Employees may feel better and more content because of spending less time at work, allowing them to focus on their tasks when they are at the workplace.
Perpetual Guardian, a large New Zealand company, trialled a four-day workweek and discovered that not only did production increase by 20%, but work-life balance scores improved from 54% to 78%.
Employees that are dissatisfied tend to distract their co-workers. The assumption behind a reduced workweek is that happier, more fulfilled individuals are more focused on their work when they are at work.
Given that some of the world's most productive countries, such as Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, work on average approximately 27 hours per week — the same hours proposed for a UK 4-day work week – the findings of this study are unsurprising. On the other hand, Japan, a country famed for overworked workers, is ranked 20th out of the 35 countries in terms of productivity.
Environmental and tax-saving benefits
Employees will commute less if their workweek is cut short, lowering their carbon footprint. Businesses with employees who work the same four days can save money on overheads and operating costs and in certain cases even qualify for tax relief, as we've seen during the pandemic.
Therefore, cutting our workweek from five to four days could be beneficial to the environment as well. Because our working week is shorter, large office buildings that consume a lot of energy are only used four days a week.
Additionally, employees would spend less money on commuting and would see cost savings in other areas such as lunch and coffee during the day.
Happier employees and fewer absences
According to the mental health charity Mind, one out of every six people experiences a common mental health condition in any given week, and one out of every five admits to calling in ill to avoid work.
People will be able to spend more time with their friends and family and do things they enjoy if the weekend is longer, which will naturally boost their wellness. It will also allow them to have an extra lie-in each week, allowing them to recharge a little more after a long week.
Employees with four-day workweeks have more time to focus on personal development or spend time with family. This will not only make employees happier, but it will also help them burn out less, allowing them to focus more and be happier in their jobs.
Employees have more free time with a three-day weekend. There aren't many individuals who will object to that. It's a win-win situation when you have more time to do the things you enjoy. Having more time to do the things you enjoy enhances overall satisfaction and can help to increase employee-employer loyalty.
More effective recruitment and retention
In the age of the millennial worker, being able to offer a more flexible work schedule is clearly an advantage that persuades employees to stay at a company. Employees have demanded increased flexibility from their employers as a result of the rise in hybrid and remote working during the pandemic.
According to the CIPD, the majority of people believe that flexible working improves their quality of life, and 30% believe it improves their mental health. As a result, providing a flexible work schedule to potential new and existing employees is an excellent method for recruiting and retaining skilled workers.
Employees are encouraged to work week after week when they know they'll get a three-day weekend. It's still a somewhat rare perk, but it may be a wonderful way to attract top talent and keep them motivated.
What are the disadvantages of a four-day working week?
Whilst there are benefits to a four-day workweek, there are disadvantages too:
“A four-day workweek wouldn’t work practically because of the need to cover more shifts during a time when we are already facing staff shortages.” – A&E Nurse, Northamptonshire Hospital
It's not possible for all industries or business models
Unfortunately, not every sector benefits from the four-day workweek approach. Some industries or professions need a constant presence, making a shorter workweek impractical and, in some situations, causing work to be delayed, resulting in longer lead times.
A four-day workweek does not work for every business. It's only a viable choice for businesses that can convert their entire operation to a new way of working.
Some employees enjoy the structure of a five-day workweek or would prefer to work more hours than a four-day workweek allows.
Similarly, certain professions have activities that just take longer than others, which may require paying extra in overtime or bringing in additional personnel to make up the difference (as happened in the Icelandic study), both of which can be costly.
Longer working hours and increased work-related stress
Although the reality may contradict the sentiment of a shorter workweek, most employees on a four-day week will most likely be required to work the same 40-hour weeks as they would on a five-day week. We could prolong shifts to ten hours in this situation. Longer days may have a negative impact on your employees' stress levels, as well as their overall health and productivity.
This is the wrong approach. Some companies confused the idea of a four-day workweek with compressed hours. Employees who are expected to work 35 hours per week but over four days will be less productive, and their engagement, work-life balance, and overall happiness will suffer. A four-day workweek should comprise typical 7-hour workdays to get the intended benefits.
A decline in customer satisfaction
Due to poor customer satisfaction, a Utah study that had some outstanding environmental results, as well as employee and employer benefits, was forced to close. Customers complained they couldn't get government services because the offices were closed on Friday.
Customer satisfaction issues could be solved by utilising technology like chatbots and AI-powered websites, which would provide customers with an alternative to relying on office-based staff members.
Is it possible to make employment more flexible?
The pandemic has shown many organisations (who may have been hesitant to let their workers work remotely in the past) that a virtual workplace can be successful, prompting calls from many employees to keep some form of remote working in the future.
And it's not just employees who are making the requests; some well-known corporations have also announced that they will strive for a more flexible work environment.
PwC is one company that has adopted this approach, asking for a shift not only in where we work but in when we work. The consultancy firm made news when it said that, once restrictions are lifted, employees will be able to choose whether to work remotely or in person, as well as the hours they want to work.
Not all companies, however, are on board with this new method of working. The assumption that the future of employment will be virtual was ridiculed by Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who called it an "aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible."
The striking contrast between the two organisations shows no one knows what the future holds for UK employees in the pandemic's aftermath.
Putting systems in place to manage hybrid working
If your line of business allows it, most of your employees are likely to choose a mix of office and home working. It will be up to business owners, managers, and HR specialists to put in place the frameworks to ensure that this happens successfully.
This will include practical considerations, such as:
Ensuring that employees whose areas of business depend on each other work simultaneously.
Determining how many days per week you'll require your employees to be at work.
Ensuring there are enough resources available (workstations, equipment etc) for the rota that you decide on.
Ultimately, with the right arrangements in place, a collaborative approach between employer and employees, and clear communication, we should be able to manage the return to work effectively in order to maintain an engaged, happy, and productive workforce.
Final thoughts: Should your company implement a four-day workweek?
Although the shorter workweek has been successful for many UK businesses, it is still an extreme approach for a company to take and involves a shift in thinking from both the employer and employees to function properly, therefore it may not be for everyone.
While we increasingly expected employees to be more flexible with their working hours, adopting a hybrid or flexible working strategy is a less disruptive, more gradual process.
Similarly, the four-day approach may not be appropriate for all industries. What research and data have shown is that companies who place a greater emphasis on employee well-being, engagement, morale, and productivity reap the advantages.
While we aren't quite there yet, there may be a day when technology, particularly AI, surpasses the skills of human beings. Then we'll have to make some tough choices about the future of work and how to best safeguard and promote the wellbeing of human workers.
Whether you’re an employer or recruiter needing specialist advice on attracting and hiring the best candidates, or what perks and working models appeal to the talent of today; or you’re a candidate looking for that next step in your career at a forward-thinking company, contact Mason & Dale recruitment experts today.