Is it finally time to take a serious look at the 4-day week and it’s huge benefits to business?
With wellbeing and job flexibility being two of the biggest areas of discussion, it’s time to re-open the issue of reduced work weeks to support work/life balance. Although it’s a very controversial topic, mounting evidence suggests that it’s actually a more effective business model. So, is it time for a 4-day week?
Iceland’s 4-day week trial has been a huge success
The fallout of the pandemic has had the silver lining of dragging employee wellbeing into the spotlight. But it’s always been a vital topic. That’s why, from 2015 to 2019, 2,500 people (equating to over 1% of Iceland’s working population) took part in a trial of the four-day work week. Those who took part had their working hours cut back to 35-36 hours a week with no change in pay.
The result was an ‘overwhelming success,’ as the study produced significant gains in both productivity and employee wellbeing due to decreases in stress and improving work/life balance, and analysts in Iceland and the UK believe these findings should be tested in other areas of the world.
Most impressively of all, the Icelandic Trade Union Federations estimate that, as a result of this study, approximately 86% of Iceland’s working population now have either flexibility or outright reduced hours in their contracts. In other words, every day, more and more people are deciding it’s time for a 4-day week to become the norm!
And Japan may soon be following suit
Historically, Japan has had its share of problems with work culture. In the 1970’s, they even established a term for death from overwork, ‘Karoshi.’ But that may be about to change, as the Japanese government has been working hard to bring their country’s approach to work into the 21st Century.
Their aim is to promote a healthier work/life balance, and encourage employers to offer more options for flexibility, with remote work being one example. But what’s most interesting is that they’re considering the possibility that it’s time for a 4-day week for their working population.
Supporting the right of employees to take time off and not be overworked is essential for preventing burnout and improving wellbeing. But it’s also hoped that a 4-day work week could benefit the Japanese economy and society at large by giving people more time to outside of work to enjoy themselves and patronise businesses.
The extra time for leisure and social interaction could also help to alleviate another major issue the Japanese government must contend with: Low marriage and birth rates in the face of a quickly ageing population.
But the best part is, Japan isn’t the only country considering these measures to support employee wellbeing. Spain, Germany and New Zealand are also preparing similar trials. So, will we see a 4-day week in the UK? Only time will tell.
How working life has changed in the past two years
Remote work as pretty much been the defining factor of working life over the past couple of years. It’s been a big change for a lot of people, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that its permanent implementation would be the biggest change we have to look forward to.
But the biggest impact of working from home has been that it challenged an incredibly long-held assumption in the world of work: Namely, that centralised business models are the only way to achieve success. So, if that can change, then what else?
It opens the door to other forms of job flexibility that haven’t been taken seriously enough. Even before COVID-19 hit, some businesses were experimenting with 4-day work weeks by compressing hours (going from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days).
Although compressed hours somewhat rightfully attract criticism for elongating the work days of already tired staff members, employees do appreciate having the option. That said, they’re arguably just a stepping stone towards the true 4-day work week, where employees are genuinely given their time back with no caveats.
The drawbacks and benefits of a four-day work week
So, we’ve taken you through the evidence, but now it’s decision time: Is it time for a 4-day week for you and your employees?
Still can’t decide? Then let’s build a list of pros and cons.
The drawbacks of a 4-day work week:
- Compressed hours make days more exhausting: If you allow staff to work 4-day weeks, but demand that they make up the time elsewhere, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The fact is, even an eight-hour day makes people work past the point of diminishing returns, meaning those extra hours will likely cost more than they earn. That’s arguably not worth the increased risk of burnout.
- Without compressed hours, you’re paying the same for less: So, if you follow in the Icelandic government’s footsteps, you’ll be paying employees the same salaries for less hours, which can feel like a kick in the teeth when you’re trying to run the most cost-effective business possible. But, as Iceland’s findings show us, it’s not even really an issue.
- Slight staff increases may be necessary: Cutting back hours can create gaps in your shift schedule. So, in a situation where you’re reducing everyone’s hours, you might need to take on new hires.
The benefits of a 4-day work week:
- The decrease in hours actually boosts productivity: People can get much more done in a shorter space of time when they’re not burning out. That’s why reducing hours at no cost to employees can make your business more financially productive and successful. In fact, Microsoft has found that 4-day weeks boosted their productivity by almost 40%.
- Improved employee wellbeing means fewer sick days: Sick days can add up to a significant cost, but when employees have more time to rest, it helps them bounce back all the quicker. As well as reducing absenteeism, it can also cut presenteeism, as there’s less pressure to work while ill.
- Supporting work/life balance reduces turnover: Even more costly than absenteeism is outright turnover. Offering a 4-day work week shows staff that their wellbeing is a priority. They’re less likely to be driven away by job stress, and more likely to develop a sense of organisational loyalty.