The buzz around a four-day work week refuses to go away. Countries around the world have tried it with varying degrees of success. In the run-up to the Ontario 2022 general election, two political parties promised to “explore a 4-day work week”, if elected.
Some private sector companies in Canada have already adopted a 4-day work week and liked it.
The concept of course is not new. It is the timing that is contributing to the ever-burgeoning interest in a shorter work week.
The pandemic has upended the traditional work model. The ordeal of the past two-and-a-half-years has contributed to employee burn-out. Recent legislation – whether it be B.C.’s 5-day paid sick leave or Ontario’s disconnecting from work policy – too has highlighted the need for greater employee wellness and mental health support. The continued labour shortage has resulted in a pro-employee market. A 4-day work week does sound like an irresistible perk that’ll trounce your competition when it comes to being chosen by top talent.
What exactly is a 4-day work week?
If your business offers a 4-day work week, it means your employees work their regular hours four days in a week and enjoy a 3-day weekend. Ideally, it does not mean that 5 days’ work hours are compressed into 4 or employee compensation is reduced.
How do we know this is good for business?
In 2018, a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, conducted a 4-day work week trial for its 240 employees. The trial ran for 8 weeks and saw a 20% productivity increase. Not only were the employees able to maintain the work output of a 5-day work week, but they reported improvements in areas, such as work-life balance, commitment, stress levels, and good will towards the company.
Iceland conducted two successful 4-day work week trials from 2015 to 2019. The trials showed improvement in productivity and employee wellbeing. Since then, 86% of the country’s workforce works shorter hours.
UK is currently conducting a six-month shorter-work week trial involving 3,300 workers from 70 companies. Belgium, Spain, Scotland, Japan, and United Arab Emirates are other countries experimenting with a 4-day work week.
What are the advantages of working 4 days a week?
If it is the right working model for your business, a 4-day work week is a win-win deal.
A 4-day work week would help you:
Reduce overhead costs
Shutting your office for an extra day per week means less expenditure on utilities, office equipment, kitchen supplies, etc. Your employees save time and money spent commuting. It is also good for the environment as there is less daily waste created in the office and there is a lower carbon footprint as your staff is no longer commuting to work.
Improve employee wellbeing
An extra day off per week means your staff can spend more quality time with family and friends. They can complete household chores, pursue interests or activities, or simply unwind after a hectic week. Employees who participated in shorter work week trials did report lower levels of stress, burnout and enjoyed a healthy work-life balance.
Attract and retain talent during a labour shortage
Businesses across sectors are currently facing a shortage of skilled workers. Inflation and the increased cost of living has only made it harder to find and retain skilled employees.
A recent study reported that the labour shortage is pushing employers to recruit candidates with a lot less experience and sometimes even without the required skills. In a pro-employee market, an innovative perk like a 4-day work week would give you an edge over your competition. It would also be an excellent strategy to retain existing employees.
The 4-day work week trials conducted around the world have shown that a shorter work week does not bring down employee productivity. Productivity levels either remained the same or increased when participating employees were able to enjoy a work-life balance.
Promote gender parity
A shorter work week could potentially make it easier for female employees to balance work and home. It would help create a level playing field with women in the workplace no longer at a disadvantage because they must juggle work with childcare.
What are the challenges of a 4-day work week?
Implementing a shorter work week is not without its challenges and requires careful planning. It would require restructuring workflows and work schedules, and may not be viable for all businesses, especially retail and food establishments.
Some roles may also be hard to adapt to a 4-day work model making company-wide implementation tough.
If companies choose to compress a 40-hour work week into 4 days, it may have the opposite effect on employee engagement, productivity, and wellbeing.
Should you consider a 4-day work week?
Businesses across the world are mulling this question as trials and studies on a 4-day work week show promising results.
But then again, your ability to implement or experiment with a 4-day work week model may depend on the nature of your business. If you’re a small business just bouncing back after the pandemic, closing shop three days a week may seem like a bad idea.
If a shorter work week is not the right fit for your business, you could offer another perk to your staff that has similar benefits – flexible work.
Flexible work means your staff has flexibility when it comes to working hours, work location, or working part-time, etc. Doing so allows your staff to balance their jobs with their personal life and work when they are least distracted and most productive. Flexible work would entail the same benefits as a shorter work week, such as a work-life balance, lower stress levels, better mental health, increased job satisfaction, and so on.
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