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Can a four-day workweek revitalise working life?

More companies are trialing a shorter working week without reducing pay

februari 16, 2022

Working five days on and two days off has been the norm for office jobs around the world for many decades. But growing numbers of companies are now asking if it’s time for a rethink. 

Later this year, pilot programs in the UK and U.S. will trial a four-day, 32-hour week, while tech companies Bolt and Buffer have both permanently adopted the shorter week. These follow previous trials run in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. 

The move ties in with an increasing focus on employee health and wellbeing after the pandemic led many people to reevaluate their lifestyle and work expectations.

“There’s been a shift in power towards employees, while their mindsets have changed. People want more flexibility and time for family priorities,” says Lee Daniels, Head of Workforce EMEA and Workplace UK at JLL.

“If businesses give back a day of the workweek to employees, this can add significant value for current and future talent and help to revitalise the post-pandemic workplace.”

According to JLL’s Regenerative Workplace research, 60 percent of employees now expect employers to support work-life balance and 71 percent want help managing their workloads. Companies that fail to live up to changing expectations risk losing out; record numbers of people in the U.S. and UK continue to resign from their roles, many in order to take positions that better align with their values.

Productivity gains and operational hurdles

For now, the four-day workweek is more of an idea than a reality in most companies – but many are watching closely to see how pilot schemes go.

“Businesses want to see whether their productivity can increase, because reports from those already doing the four-day week do indicate this,” says Daniels.

A five-year study in Iceland found that shorter working hours strongly correlated with more productive workers. Health and wellbeing can also improve when employees have more time to relax, exercise and socialise, helping to boost energy levels which can translate into a more motivated workforce.

However, organisations will need to experiment with scheduling and policy to understand if and how a four-day week can work for them, says Daniels.

A shorter workweek could simply be unfeasible for businesses such as logistics or hospitality companies that need to operate through the week – requiring more staff overall to ensure business runs as usual.

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Considering workforce culture and employee needs will be vital. One study from the UK’s Chartered Management Institute found that while nearly 80 per cent of senior managers under the age of 35 like the idea of a four-day week, just 56 per cent of those aged 55 or older agree.

What’s more, burnout could continue to be an issue if employees end up working longer hours to finish their work, while the performance of individual employees might not necessarily improve when provided with a mandated extra day off.

“It’s important to give employees choice, variety and flexibility to work the way they need in order to manage their workload and personal responsibilities,” says Daniels.

New ways of working

For firms who decide to adopt a four-day week, clear guidelines for what’s expected of employees can help assuage concerns of falling behind or being interrupted on non-workdays. Communication between team members and different teams is also key to keep business running smoothly.

Technology could also help to ensure working time is spent more effectively. Automation software or virtual assistants might be used for time-consuming admin tasks, freeing employees to focus on decision-making, while virtual reality could make it easier to collaborate and complete work. Rather than a set timeframe in which they need to be available, employees might have work hours that shift according to project targets and opportunities to collaborate.

As organisations explore new ways of working to attract and retain people who increasingly seek flexible, value-driven employment, they need to consider what will best help their unique workforce thrive.

“People are the chief currency of any business,” says Daniels. “There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for an engaged, happy, and healthy workforce, but those that are open to new working concepts like hybrid working or the four-day week are better placed to win the war for talent because what employees are looking for is autonomy, purpose, flexibility, empowerment, and fulfilment.” 

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