Could a Shorter Workweek Help Your Company Rise Above the Economic & Health Crises?
Maybe you’ve heard the gossip in the office or seen it all over LinkedIn — everybody’s talking about this four-day workweek. It has forced us all to look at these alternate ways of working and different ways of engaging our employees.
But is this really the direction we’re all heading? Is the shorter workweek the future of work?
In a study conducted by Mind Share Partners — a San Francisco-based, nonprofit organisation that advocates psychological safety at work — business leaders found that 60% of 1,500 employees said their productivity was affected by their mental health. “And more than one third thought their workplace environment contributed to their triggers.”
💡 If implementing a four-day workweek means doing overtime, then why is the compressed work schedule surging to a record high?
💡 Aren’t companies supposed to pay more attention to employee mental health now than ever?
What Exactly Is a 4-Day Workweek?
Also known as a compressed work schedule, a four-day workweek allows you to complete the traditional 35-40 work hours in four days instead of five. If you’re a full-time employee, you could work for 10 hours a day from Monday to Thursday, and then enjoy a long weekend.
At Microsoft Japan, employees were given the opportunity to work for four days weekly whilst enjoying their five-day paychecks on top of their three-day weekends.
How Will This Affect HR Leaders?
Like hundreds of unread emails, HR challenges continue to pile up amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With high turnover and employee burnout as their top pain points, more companies and HR professionals explore flexible work options. Here’s why:
🌟 “Better work-life balance” gives you the advantage in recruiting talent, especially in a competitive labour market. Research has shown that overwork is detrimental to mental health, and it impedes an employee’s ability to work efficiently.
Business leaders who have adopted the four-day workweek understand the importance of giving their people enough space or time to relax. A study in Sweden even reported that nurses who did shorter working days logged less sick leaves and had better engagements in the workplace, showing better well-being.
The relationship between mental health and productivity or well-being and overwork are closely related. “Two thirds of companies that have adopted a four-day workweek [from early 2000s to date] say employee productivity has increased,” according to a recent article published by Bloomberg Businessweek.
🌟 An extra free day could mean increased employee productivity and overall happiness. Perpetual Guardian CEO Andrew Barnes declared an enormous success in permanently adopting a four-day work schedule.
Researchers found that the actual job performance didn’t change despite losing a one day’s work. Employees felt motivated to always be on time and productive within a shorter workweek, given the incentive of an extra free day.
“Giving people a day off is a massive incentive for them to be more productive, […] What you’re really saying to people is: ‘I am going to give you something that you cannot put a price on. It’s more time. More time to do whatever you want. And all you have to do is rethink how you do things.’“
— Andrew Barnes, CEO at Perpetual Guardian & Author of The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Well-Being, and Create a Sustainable Future
🌟 A shorter workweek may improve employee retention and decrease talent acquisition costs. 30% of workers said they left their jobs because they didn’t offer work flexibility. (Source: FlexJobs 2019 Annual Survey)
If a four-day workweek points towards more satisfied, committed employees, it’s only safe to assume that it also means higher employee retention. Business leaders who can retain their top talent or experienced employees will save time and money related to new hire training and onboarding needs.
🌟 Out of office means reduced maintenance fees or overhead costs. The evolving technology has paved the way for telecommuting or remote working. Smartphone apps even made it easier for business leaders and their teams to remain productive whilst on the go.
With telecommuting and having work flexibility in place, both employers and employees save on overhead costs. These include office space and amenities lease, public transport fares or electric energy consumption.
🌟 Out of office also means enjoying environmental benefits, such as reduced carbon footprint. When you’re working remotely and don’t travel as much, you’re not only saving on commuting expenses but also cutting down electricity usage in office buildings. This positively impacts the environment.
In a 2007 experiment made by the state of Utah, more than 17,000 employees worked for four hours a week that had saved the state $1.8 million on electric bills. They also estimated to reduce 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions — the equivalent of taking 4,600 cars off the roads — if they continue to adopt the four-day workweek.
Could a 4-Day Workweek Be an Idea Ahead of Its Time?!
Whilst some employers are stickler for the norm, those who tried the four-day workweek have reported benefits such as boosting productivity and preventing burnout. But before you pilot this compressed workweek schedule, here are some things to consider:
☝️ It’s not a one-size-fits-all business approach. “It took our business at least two days to feel fully confident in our transition to an entirely remote work environment,” says Josh Miles, CEO of Killer Visual Strategies in Seattle.
Although having their people work for 10 hours for four days a week has been successful, “There’s no handbook on this. Every company has to figure it out for themselves,” Miles adds.
🤔 Questions to ponder: Is adopting a shorter workweek feasible in your industry? How many workers should be reporting per week to ensure smooth operations?
☝️ Customer satisfaction rate might suffer. The shorter workweek in the 2007 experiment made by the state of Utah had to be abandoned due to poor customer satisfaction. Locals complained about not having access to government services on Fridays.
Similarly, most clients in the BPO and IT industries often expect services like technical support to be readily available. Any change in the work schedule comes with a shift in client expectations.
🤔 Questions to ponder: In the absence of an on-site staff, could you provide your clients with other resources or platforms to use for their needs? How will you give assurance to your clients that the quality of work won’t suffer whilst transitioning to a shorter workweek?
☝️ Some employees have difficulty in managing personal lives. This is especially true for parents with kids at homes. Because a shorter workweek often requires an individual to do overtime on a typical work day, a parent may struggle managing his/her day-to-day life.
Top challenges include finding daycare facilities that are open until late night or avoiding distractions throughout the day, and then feeling exhausted after exceeding the eight-hour work.
🤔 Questions to ponder: Are there other flexible work arrangements that you can provide your employees with? If you’re only considering a four-day workweek, how will you measure its effectiveness?
Is Thursday the New Friday? Recent Studies on Flexible Working
Before the COVID-19 pandemic even hit businesses, the four-day workweek has already surged in popularity. Several months now into quarantine, more companies are considering to adopt this flexible work arrangement for various reasons.
💡 Perpetual Guardian’s four-day workweek trial from 2017 to 2018 resulted in 78% work-life balance improvement and 38% lower stress levels.
💡 Microsoft Japan tried it in 2019 and said their productivity was up by 40% whilst their utilities cost went down by 23%.
💡 Renowned software company and social media tool Buffer did a six-month pilot of four-day workweek in 2020. The company saw higher autonomy and lower stress levels between teams — without hurting their sales.
Much has changed since automotive tycoon Henry Ford started the eight-to-five, Monday-through-Friday workweek in 1924, leading many business experts to revolutionise the schedule.
The modern workplace is now moving towards postmaterialism where more professionals value their quality of life over economic security. As workplaces continue to evolve, both employers and employees should look for various ways to stay engaged and productive whilst keeping their mental health a top priority.