Does The Four-Day Workweek Work For Your Organization?
Everyone loves a three-day weekend, but would you love it as much if you had one every week? How would you react if this became your new work schedule?
The idea of a reduced workweek is not a new concept. In fact, the idea of a four-day workweek has been toyed around with for decades. However, as many work environments have shifted since COVID-19, the concept has seen amplified attention around the globe.
For example, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Arden, floated the notion as a way to rebuild the nation’s economy and encourage domestic tourism. Closer to home, the idea gained traction when a recent study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute reported that 47 per cent of Canadians would prefer a 30-hour week to a 40-hour one.
Some companies, such as Perpetual Guardian and Microsoft, are already recognizing the benefits of a four-day week, announcing substantial increases in employee productivity, satisfaction and work-life balance.
When Microsoft implemented a four-day workweek in its subsidiary in Japan (a country known for long work hours), the result was a boost in productivity of nearly 40 per cent.
Now, the four-day workweek should not be confused with a compressed schedule, which consists of four 10-hour work days, for a total of 40 hours a week. A true four-day workweek is not a compressed work schedule, but rather reduced hours. This entails that an employee work roughly 28-32 hours per week, with three days off.
The big question is what would result for employers and employees with implementing a four-day workweek?
1. Increased Productivity
Many people believe that the more you work, the more you can accomplish. But in reality, what we are learning is that less is often more.
In a 2019 survey conducted by United Kingdom-based Henley Business School, it was found that employees working fewer hours are more efficient and make fewer mistakes, as they are more mentally alert and energized.
Research done by Stanford University, concluded that after 55 hours of work in a week, productivity drops so much that those extra hours worked are practically worthless, clearly showing that our best work is accomplished when we are not fatigued and overstretched.
It is also notable that some of the worlds’ most productive countries including Germany, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, work an average of 27 hours per week.
2. Health and Wellness
In the past decade, several studies have supported the association between long working hours and detriments to our health, including increased stress, fatigue, reduced sleep and cardiovascular disease.
On the other hand, when we move to a shorter workweek, we start to engage in healthier habits, such as exercise and better meal preparation, and both our physical and mental health start to improve. We take fewer sick days and are less likely to experience burnout.
3. Better Balance
Many of us often struggle with work-life balance. We’re either taking care of family, attempting to find time to attend school or the gym, or trying to catch up on the tasks of our daily lives that get put on the backburner.
Fundamentally, a four-day week gives us more time to live in balance.
4. Talent Management
The good news for HR professionals is that a four-day workweek could aid in the ability to attract and retain top talent. Henley Business School reports that 63 per cent of businesses that have implemented the four-day week said flexible work offerings supported their ability to attract the right talent.
This is particularly true for millennials and younger generations, whose desire for flexibility is a key consideration when choosing an employer.
Many studies report that those who have chosen to leave a job did so because their employer did not offer flexible work options. This could be closely tied to the desire to explore a side gig, spend more time with family, pursue further education and engage in hobbies and interests outside of regular work.
At this point, you’re probably thinking that a four-day week would be great. Unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward and may not be for everyone.
1. Staffing and Scheduling
The first challenge to consider when implementing a four-day workweek concerns staffing and scheduling. More specifically, the challenge becomes how to implement a system that ensures consistency and fairness for everyone.
Similarly, if days off are to be irregular among the team, employers should consider the challenges that may arise when scheduling meetings and managing projects. For example, what happens when a project is due on a Friday but an employee doesn’t work that day? Will this employee feel compelled to come in to avoid missing out on important updates and deadlines?
With staff working reduced hours and not present for five days per week, employers may need to hire more employees to fill workload demands—creating additional logistics, hiring and training costs.
2. Customer Concerns
When switching to a four-day workweek, customer impact and expectations should also be considered. If customers are accustomed to seeking assistance from their key contact (whether lawyer, accountant or financial advisor) five days a week, then reducing this access could cause serious implications.
As well, customers may become frustrated if they are not receiving responses with the timeliness in which they expect. Customer needs don’t become reduced along with a reduced workweek, and therefore, their needs cannot be ignored. For employers, this is the most notable drawback, as an overwhelming number of employers report that the needs of the customer outweigh the need for flexibility at work.
3. Organizational Culture
An important consideration is whether a four-day week will be a mandatory practice or left to the discretion of each individual employee.
If discretionary, this may create a divide between people who opt in and opt out. Resentment may build toward those working less hours, and career advancement opportunities may become limited. Meanwhile those choosing to work a four-day week may feel pressure from their full-time counterparts and less connected to the team.
Employers will need to proceed with caution as there is the possibility of impacting internal harmony and organizational culture.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and no handbook to follow. It is important to consider the pros and cons and to remain flexible when approaching new ways to work. It is recommended to seek input from all stakeholders (managers, employees, customers) about the impact of a four-day workweek and to implement a trial period before permanently changing work schedules.
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