Is a four-day working week the answer to employee productivity?
A long-standing debate in the labour market, the four-day week is increasingly gaining traction throughout Europe and in organisations across the globe. Promising increased productivity and extra time for employee, research has proven that it has genuine potential benefits – allowing businesses get more for less.
So, what exactly does the four-day week include and what are some key benefits – and risks – behind it for your business?
Where did it originate?
While it may not feel like it, the five-day working week is only a relatively new invention. For Western society, this was first brought about through unionisation efforts in England in the 19th century. During this period, factory work was demanding and dangerous, with mechanisation allowing
employees to work longer periods. With Sunday designated as a holy day, workers were broadly exempt from their duties. However, less observant labourers would enjoy a pint or two and turn up and work at a fraction of their capacity – if they even turned up at all, a concept called ‘Saint
Before long, industrialists realised this and offered a half-day on Saturday on the agreement that workers would arrive rested, refreshed, and – perhaps most importantly – sober on a Monday. This was also picked up in the highly industrialised US in the 1930’s under the Ford company – where
Saturdays and Sundays were given to workers to spend as they wanted as a commitment to a 40 hour working week. However, this allowed workers to spend their income on products – many of which went directly back to Ford’s pockets – helping to stimulate growth in the local economy.
The concept of a four day working week – or compressed schedule – has been part of the conversation since the rise of digital technologies in the 1960’s. These stipulate that automation and software improvements can help make labour and daily tasks more efficient, allowing the normal work to be carried out in a fraction of the normal time.
And with digital technologies making home working, management, and production more efficient than ever before, many industry observers believe that the 4 day week is closer and more practically achievable than ever before.
What does it involve?
Put simply, the four-day week involves carrying out the same tasks within a 40-hour week within the space of four days rather than the conventional five.
This has been championed by mainstream parties, with Labour claiming to deliver a 32 hour week with no drop in productivity within 10 years.
This was delivered in direct response to the ‘flatlining’ in productivity that occurred in 2008 – roughly dovetailing with the rise in networking technologies that have now become commonplace in many businesses and have been leveraged by companies in the risks posed by the Covid 19 virus.
Interestingly, test runs have been met with considerable success. Microsoft Japan enjoyed a productivity spike of 60% when it was introduced and several British businesses have been switching to the format in recent years.
While there are a range of options available to business owners, there is no common agreement why this has taken place, with the issue commonly known as the ‘productivity puzzle’ in many circles.
Bearing this in mind, there are a number of positives and negatives attached with the four day week that are important to bear in mind.
What are the pros and cons?
While many early studies have produced positive results, there have been clear common pros and cons for both cases. These include-
Employees have additional time to spend with families and loved ones, allowing them to enjoy a greater work-life balance. This can be great for employees starting families, dealing with issues outside of work and allows them to return to the office refreshed and positive.
Staff are less likely to fall foul of Parkinson’s law, where work expands to fill available time. This also extends to innovations around productivity, letting you take advantage of technology and new working practices to help take a new approach to work.
One less day of employees in the office automatically reduces overheads by
20%. This can allow you to take a more sustainable approach to your daily practice and ensure that your carbon footprint is also reduced.
Acquisition and Retention
Having an extra day off per week is a massive draw to skilled staff that are
looking to enjoy increased control over their work-life balance. This allows you a soft power advantage when it comes to recruitment and acts as a significant incentive for employees that may otherwise consider moving to another company or industry.
Cost of Failure
Changing your weekly working practice can be prohibitively expensive and failing to see results can be a significant risk. Even trial programs cannot fully represent the problems that your teams will need to tackle, leaving you in a situation where long-term deployments are too cost-prohibitive to continue, causing disruption and drops in employee morale.
Some industries will simply be unable to work under a reduced schedule. Many require the provision of continuous care or lack the practical infrastructure to manage scheduling or make it cost effective to carry out on a long-term basis.
Loss of Connectivity
One of the major issues facing the four day week – and remote working – is a lack of cohesion and connectivity with teams. Some approaches to daily work may vary and employees that want to work longer hours for a number of reasons may not be able to be fully facilitated.
Paradoxically, having a reduced working week can actually place more pressure on employees. Transitioning to a new style of working can be difficult for many professionals, particularly seasoned employees that may be set in their ways. This can bring discomfort, stress, and result in employees taking work home with them to complete their responsibilities.
What alternatives are there?
While the four-day week may be beyond your business for now. There are a range of options available to help trial a compressed workday or drive efficiency throughout your business. These include-
Remote Working: As recent requests to self-isolate have shown, businesses can still operate when team members are working from home. This can be due to any number of collaboration platforms which allow team members to communicate, share files, and work with as much efficiency as before.
Providing an employee with their own laptop can allow them to operate from home regularly with minimal disruption and give them greater freedom. However, this can be prohibitively expensive, and some employees may benefit more from working with others ‘in person’.
Allowing workers to dictate their schedule can give them a greater sense of agency and order their week accordingly to deal with key project tasks. This helps add greater work-life balance,
mitigates job stress, and provides a great halfway house between a four-day week and rigid contemporary practice. However, issues may arise with individuals accruing or losing flexi-time hours and it is vitally important to ensure there is a regulated process that makes it clear how and when
hours can be massaged – especially when it comes to handling large-scale projects and detailed client work.
If you’re still struggling to work efficiently, choosing a software package or
CMS system can help your teams work more effectively and ensure full contact when it matters most. Choosing a bespoke solution can allow you to directly address common issues and ensure you work at peak efficiency for as long as possible without placing extra stress on your teams. Despite
this, it is important to choose and validate your provider fully before committing to the use of any system. Failing to secure a reliable implementer can result in increased risk and being ‘locked in’ to a
platform that is not fully fit-for-purpose.
How can we help?
If you need additional help with managing your internal productivity, our team at Practical Software are here to help. With many years’ professional experience, we understand the importance of working with you to provide the bespoke support that will add value throughout your business.
You can view our list of services and software packages in full from here. Or if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our team directly and let us know exactly what you need to improve your processes and productivity.