If employers can handle staff working from home, they can surely handle a four-day workweek. That’s the message from Arran Stewart, Founder and CVO of Job.com, a firm using tech to innovate the hiring and retention experience, who says a shorter week isn’t radical; it simply makes sense.
The four-day work week – changing trends and attitudes
COVID-19 has fast-tracked remote and hybrid working styles that were considered many years away from mainstream adoption until recently – so why shouldn’t a shorter week follow?
The pandemic was disruptive, but it made companies realise that “people can be very productive if allowed to work in a way they want to work”, which Stewart believes might soon apply to a four-day week too. He is sure that adoption is more likely because of the recent cultural ‘deaths’ in the workplace. By this, he means the removal of outdated work cultures that serve no real benefit, such as formal dress.
Another, more recent death is the 9-5 office-based work format, which is being replaced by flexible hours and remote and hybrid options. He believes the eradication of these “regimented” practices results in a “more diverse open and focused” work culture, emphasising a work/life balance, with the four-day week the latest advancement in this process.
Stewart admits that adopting the four-day week will require a mindset shift for employers away from focusing on the amount of time spent working to the quality of work delivered. In short, not caring how or where work is done, just that it is.
While not wanting to generalise, he has seen opposition come from “historical leadership” such as Baby Boomers and Generation X, who, used to more “traditional” working styles, see it as people wanting Fridays off rather than a genuine desire for a more holistic approach to work based on productivity.
What the four-day week can look like
With happy staff being 13% more productive, according to Stewart, could a shorter week facilitate this work environment? According to an Icelandic study, yes. Conducted between 2015 and 2019, it found that people were at least as productive, if not more, when working a shorter week.
Stewart believes that the four-day workweek can be implemented in a very flexible way. “The benefit to an employee is that they get an extra day off however they want to take it, it doesn’t always reflect like a three-day weekend, some employees might choose to break up their week.”
By adopting this practice, firms don’t have to face a workload deficit. In the Icelandic study, employees worked 36 hours per week, not 40. “The physical time off work was only reduced by half a day. But they spread that half a day on Friday across the four days, which was basically an additional hour of work every day,” he says.
However, Stewart warns leaders not to force employees to overwork by working five days in the space of four. They must be intentional when adopting the four-day week, or they won’t get the productivity gains from better rested and more motivated staff.
Talent retention and attraction perks
While the data isn’t available yet to show the retention benefits of a four-day workweek, Stewart is confident that it will be proven, especially as the great resignation continues to impact businesses. “If you’re a company going through a heavy level of resignation because you’ve had burnout or employees wanting to try new paths, I think it’s one hell of a bargaining chip.
“We can make an educated guess that if you are happier in a job because you feel better rested and don’t feel burnt out and you’re having the amount of leisure time you need, it’s probably going to result in you staying longer.”
Stewart also believes that offering it will help firms save on implementation and hiring costs: “If you went to the CFO or CHRO and said ‘I have a solution for you which won’t cost you anything because all your employees will remain as productive, if not more. And it is so attractive that it will reduce your cost and time to hire drastically. Would you like to know what it is?’ It’s the four-day working week!”
Considerations around implementation
However, Stewart advises companies to consider the four-day workweek on a “job-by-job-basis” and gives an example of cleaning staff in a hotel to outline why; if a cleaner who makes beds daily works four days a week, the hotel needs to increase its costs to find someone for the fifth day. For companies not providing a physical service, the shorter week is more realistic, as they can use automation to remain productive all week long regardless of physical presence.
In smaller companies, where leaders are more likely to guess staff productivity by gut-feeling rather than through sophisticated performance management systems, he suggests that leaders offer productive staff the four-day workweek as a reward. An interesting incentive idea? Yes. Although management should be careful about equal treatment issues.
If implemented, the four-day workweek doesn’t have to be a radical change. Yet, the potential wins to be had, such as more attractive recruitment incentives, hiring and policy implementation savings, and greater staff productivity, make it something to at least try.