Over the past two-plus years, the pandemic has definitely drawn more management attention to both employee health and well-being and business continuity.
All issues related to the health of employees were given priority. Then came a new, or at least deepened, realization that business continuity is not only vulnerable to disasters like fire or floods, but also to public health crises.
COVID taught management and staff alike that working from home is actually a “workable” solution when disaster strikes. In fact, many organizations are now regularly adopting either a full remote or hybrid work schedule. Employees appreciate this schedule because it shortens their commute, which saves fuel, reduces clothing expenses, and has helped parents with young children endure the morning family rush.
However, while policies and procedures for working from home are gaining ground, a new general trend is emerging, that of a four-day workweek as a means of ensuring the ongoing well-being of employees. In fact, some organizations see the four-day workweek as the “new frontier” in the competition for new employees.
The motivation for changing the work schedule also comes from the fact that employees still report a high demand for a better work-life balance and the need to reduce stress through more working time flexibility. For example, a recent US study of 6,600 adults showed that 43 percent of participants cited the need for a better work-life balance as the top reason they considered quitting their job.
As a result, several pilot projects have been implemented and/or recently completed, showing growing momentum for the four-day week. One company, a children’s clothing retailer, reported that the four-day work week was “life-changing” for its employees. They could catch up on personal time without worrying about what was left behind at work. Another firm, a growing technology company, saw an increase in employee retention rates.
Before we look at the pros and cons of a four-day work week, let’s take a moment to define the term. In some cases, people define a four-day work week as a 40-hour timeframe compressed into four days with the fifth day off. Still others see a four-day workweek as a worker who only works four days a week on their regular schedule without a pay cut. No matter which approach you take, there are definitely implications to consider.
A condensed weekly work schedule has certainly been introduced in many organizations. While employees may feel refreshed when they return, there have also been issues related to working 10 hours a day. This could be especially true for employees who have families and usual sporting activities.
When an organization considers a “real” four-day workweek rather than a condensed schedule, managers need to consider whether this proposed work schedule meets the organization’s needs while avoiding financial and/or service problems. Whichever option is implemented, management must ensure a dual focus on employee productivity and well-being.
The various previous pilot projects report on the advantages of the four-day work week; However, none of the ones I checked indicated whether or not it was a compressed workweek. I agree that the reports suggest increased employee satisfaction, an increase in loyalty, increased employee well-being, reduced sick leave utilization and a positive impact on productivity. Some also noticed that the number of applicants who want to join their company has increased.
At least one pilot project has shown that a four-day workweek literally changed the culture of the reporting organization. Employee heroism was no longer based on who got to work first and who left last. Employees appreciated the extra time to be with family and do personal things. Also, the employees have demonstrated that they change their working style in order to complete all of their work within the four-day time frame. Also, some proponents of the four-day work schedule suggest there is potential for businesses to cut costs as their business may be closed for an extra day.
Additionally, reports suggest other benefits for employees, such as: E.g. reduced travel time and fuel costs, reduced spending on business-oriented clothing and restaurant lunches. Benefits seen to date have included greater job satisfaction, better work-life balance, reduced stress for employees, and increased company loyalty while maintaining overall productivity.
Still, there are doubtful Thomaseses who are quick to voice their concerns, one of which is that a four-day workweek forces employees to work faster, which could result in a deterioration in job quality. However, there are other very serious issues that I think organizations should consider. For example, what impact would the preferred new schedule have on finances and profitability? Would the organization remain open on the fifth day and then hire additional staff, increasing overall costs? Would a rotation schedule be developed to allow employees to work four days while the business is operational for five days or more?
How would a four day work week affect customer service? Do HR managers need to recalculate vacation and sick days using a four-day calculation instead of five? Would employees expect their current vacation and sick leave rates to remain the same? Would the four-day work schedule affect employee retirement plans?
While there is excitement in the air and a growing movement to introduce a four-day workweek, it is not a strategy that should be implemented without much thought. In addition to the concerns raised above, management must remember that a four-day work week would represent a big change and that change is hard. HR managers would do well to look through the many pilot projects, interview some of the project managers and employees and then compare any similarities with their own organization. A thorough financial analysis and customer service impact review would also need to be conducted.
While the general theory surrounding the topic of a four-day workweek is to increase job satisfaction and employee engagement, I’m sure there’s more to it than meets the eye. Take your time, do your research, choose your strategy, conduct a local pilot, and then assess whether your choice of work schedules is a good fit for your organization.
Source: A pilot program is underway in the US and Canada for a four-day work week, Michelle Fox, CNBC, April 7, 2022.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCPHR, B.Ed, M.Ed, CCP is a human resources professional, author, radio personality, speaker, executive coach, and workshop leader. She can be reached at [email protected]