The four-day workweek - a panacea for workplace wellbeing?
Before the onset of the pandemic, the four-day workweek had been trialled in pockets around the world. Now, following the existential upheaval caused by COVID-19, the desire to establish a greater work-life balance (not to mention the unemployment crisis), has fuelled interest in the relevance of a four-day workweek once more.
The general idea behind the four-day workweek is simple; more free time makes for more content employees. More content employees also mean better rates of productivity. Making it something of a win-win situation both in terms of happier employees and productive output. The buzz around the four-day workweek appears to be pretty justified. Some of the organizations who have trialled it (including the Japanese offices of software giant Microsoft), even show an increased profit margin, despite the ‘lost’ day of work.
Now everyone and their uncle seems to be trialling the four-day workweek; with both the Spanish and Finnish Governments are encouraging its adoption, and 30 UK companies set to pilot it in June. If more time to yourself, doesn’t send you into an excited fit of ecstatic dancing, then consider these four reasons why a four day week is better for staff and companies alike:
The case for the four-day workweek
1 Increased employee satisfaction. This is the main headline when it comes to workplace wellbeing, and it’s no surprise that having an additional day off makes employees feel more satisfied. With more time to spend with family and friends, engage in activities that help reduce stress and even time for sorting out life admin, it’s easy to see how the four-day workweek can make people feel better about their workplace. In essence, the more respected you feel by your employer (both by being entrusted to get the work done in a shorter time frame and as a human being with a life outside of work) the more committed you’re likely to feel to the organization you’re working for.
Rather than feeling like work is stealing your time, the balance of working just over half of the week makes it easier to enjoy the fruits of your labour (rather than squeezing them around your busy work schedule).
2 Reduced employee sickness levels. Unsurprising news to anyone who’s worked in customer service, the more time off you get the less sick leave you are likely to need. The reduction in stress, higher quality of sleep, less snacking on vending-machine rubbish and freedom over your time makes it less likely that you’ll get unwell. Plus, you have more time to recover properly, with at least 3 days of rest, if you do catch a pesky cold.
3 Improved productivity. The clincher that makes the big boss happy. The bottom line is, that despite fewer hours at work, more work can actually get done. This is because employees who are well-rested and more content at work are more likely to be focused at work too. The four-day week trial run by Microsoft Japan in 2019 saw a near 40% increase in productivity over the month. That’s a figure that’s hard to argue with…
4 Ability to attract and retain talent. To keep apace of the changing world, the workplace needs to change with it – as was the case even pre- pandemic. Younger generations have big expectations when it comes to their workplace. No longer are people fretting about how they can fit their lives around work, the focus has changed and now we want to know how a job can fit into our lives. For employers, this means offering flexible working is very attractive to future talent. Switching to a four-day workweek, as it is still relatively novel, can be used to attract and retain talent.
The caveats that are worth considering
Before we go rushing off to secure our four-day workweeks, there are some things worth considering:
Four-days not for all industries
Firstly, this model doesn’t suit every business model. As seen in the case of the large charitable foundation The Wellcome Trust which toyed with the idea back in 2019. Yet after much press and conducting internal consultations with staff and HR experts, they eventually deemed the shift too “operationally complex” to implement.
Four days in theory but five-in-four in practice (?)
For all its promise, the four-day workweek still needs to be implemented – and this is where things can go a bit awry. In reality, many employers may simply expect their employees to work the same number of hours over a compressed time frame. This could have a really counter-intuitive impact; increasing employee stress and dissatisfaction. And so, for all its promise, the four-day workweek still needs to be implemented – creating the potential for things to go awry.
Final thoughts: More free time, less stress and better workplace wellbeing sounds (almost) too good to be true. Whilst the four-day workweek promises a lot, it remains to be seen whether its implementation is viable in the UK and beyond. Done well, the four-day work offers a lot of hope for employees, businesses (and dare we say, the planet) alike!