Realistic or unrealistic?
To most of us, a four-day workweek sounds better than a five-day workweek. Having a better work-life is highly desired by many people. The CIPD’s UK Working Lives survey 2019 found that 26% of workers felt that their job affects their personal commitments. As well as three in five UK employees working longer hours than they’d like to. However, is reducing the number of workdays a practical solution for businesses?
The Impact on Flexibility.
Flexibility is increasingly important for workers. This is how they can manage their work-life balance. However, optimum work-life balance is different for each of us. While the four-day workweek has the potential to be more flexible, the new demands and management of a shorter workweek could be restrictive.
In a four-day workweek, non-work appointments would be discouraged during working hours. This could be a problem for employees with caring responsibilities or medical issues. For one person, less flexibility over start and finish times would be a reasonable trade-off for a shorter workweek. However, this is not practical for others where a five-day flexible workweek is more manageable.
Workers may also have to be more flexible with when and where they complete their work. The largest barrier to the four-day working week in retail and other commercial businesses is the reduced availability for customers. Business owners would rightly question they could still be responsive to the demand of clients. How will businesses offer support with a four-day week? Will employees need to be required to have meetings on their non-working days, or will businesses come up with alternatives for task management, such as job sharing and shift rotation? These issues need to be carefully considered to ensure continuity of business and prevent work from spilling into personal time.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to balancing work and home life. For some, it is not practical to bring work home as it increases stress. Whereas, for others, they can work around other commitments and work from home if this is required.
The Impact on Workload.
On average, full-time workers in the UK work 42.5 hours a week. However, 34% of full-time employees feel they do not have enough time to complete their work. So if a business moves to a four-day week, a critical question would be whether workloads would be adjusted to align with the shorter workweek. The four-day workweek has been trialled and implemented by companies around the world. There has been no report of a decrease in productivity or revenue however, it has been impractical for some and required adaption to suit others.
Microsoft Japan trialled the four-day workweek in August 2019 closing its offices every Friday. They also reduced the time spent in meetings, implementing a 30-minute limit and encouraged remote communication. The company found that labour productivity increased by 39.9% compared with August 2018. Full-time employees were given paid leave during the closures. This was part of Microsoft’s “Work-Life Choice Challenge” examining work-life balance and aimed to help boost creativity and productivity by giving employees more flexible working hours. Other benefits included the reduced consumption of electricity and office supplies. Microsoft found that the number of pages printed decreased by 58.7%, while electricity consumption was down by 23.1% compared with August 2018.
Microsoft isn’t the only company that has highlighted the benefits of a four-day workweek. Andrew Barnes, the founder of New Zealand-based estate planning service provider Perpetual Guardian, found that a four-day week led to a noticeable increase in team engagement while work-life balance and stress decreased. While the project management software company Basecamp found working a 32-hour week helps employees focus on their most important tasks to work smarter, not faster.
However, not all trials of the four-day workweek have proven successful. Treehouse, a company that offers virtual classes for learning how to code tried the four-day workweek in 2015. Ryan Carson, CEO, felt that the four-day workweek created a lack of work ethic and was detrimental to the business. While software company Wildbit implemented a four-day workweek in 2017 and has been experimenting and adapting the approach since, splitting which days team members get off during the week.
Job sharing or using technology for certain tasks could make it easier to implement a four-day workweek, freeing up employees to do more value-added work. Proper management of a business’s workload needs to be addressed before moving to shorter work-week hours. Otherwise, additional issues could be created for well-being and work-life balance.
In conclusion, moving to the four-day workweek should be carefully considered regarding the potential impacts on employees and employers. It requires flexibility, careful management and possible trade-offs.
Ultimately, it’s important that businesses aim to improve work-life balance as many workers find this challenging to manage. According to the HSE, the UK loses 15.4 million working days due to work-related stress. Businesses need to communicate to employees to develop a strategy to manage workload and achieve a good work-life balance – whether that is by implementing a four-day workweek or not.