It sounds a little like a dream but, could the four-day work week be the future of the workforces? Well, some people seem to think so. The pandemic made many companies realize that productivity actually increased as the work hours became more flexible, with employers that seemed to get more work done without needing the extra hours at the office.
People became more efficient while working from home, making employees question if spending eight-hour shifts five-days a week is really necessary.
Recently the UK announced that it would be launching a trial run of the four-day work week, with companies signing on for a six-month trial. Employees will have the same pay while working only four days a week instead of five. Run by the 4 Day Week campaign, Autonomy, and researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Boston, they hope to find out whether companies can reach their desired productivity working 80% of the time.
But could the four-day work week be the future of workforces? Does it work for everyone? And if so, what would that look like?
What Is Up with Four-Day Weeks?
Four-day weeks, shorter work hours and more flexible schedules seem to be some of the things on the minds of companies that want to keep their employees happy and retain some of the talent that’s been finding new and exciting opportunities outside the conventional workforce. With so many jobs becoming remote or hybrid in the past two years, a three-day weekend for people to spend more time with their families and doing the things they love, could inspire employees to produce more while working less.
Many companies have started to test a four-day work week, with initial trials showing promising results. Microsoft Japan adopted a shorter week in the summer of 2021, with a 40% increase in productivity and a cut in the electricity bill. The company’s employees “took their time at work more seriously, finished more than expected, and helped the company save a bit of money on electricity.”
Trials held in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 show an “overwhelming success,” with 86% of the country’s workforce already working a shorter work week or in the process of doing so. According to Alda researcher Gudmmundur Haraldsson, “The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too.”
Trials and pilot programs will be taking place around the world during 2022, with Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and Spain among the countries looking to test how it will impact things like productivity, mental health, general wellbeing, gender equality, and even the environment.
What Are Some Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week?
If the four-day work week is to be the future, there must be more things than an exciting three-day weekend and an extra day to spend with family, friends, or engaging in other interests and hobbies. During their test run of the four-day work week, Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand’s largest estate planning company, found that applying a few changes (an open floor plan and shortened meetings) along with the four-day work week made employees work more in less time, increasing sales and profits as well as happiness and general well-being. Some other benefits include:
1Improved Employee Health and Work/Life Integration: One of the most obvious benefits for everyone is that companies will stop measuring how long people are at work and begin to focus on the work being produced instead. Iceland’s four-day work week trial reported employees feeling happier and experiencing less stress and burnout without seeing any negative effects in their productivity.
2Improved Quality and Quantity of Work: Not only did some of the trials and pilot projects find that productivity was not reduced with the introduction of four-day work weeks, but many also discovered that their employees actually focused more deeply on work, wasted less time on social media, and increased their productivity.
3Narrow Workplace Gender Gaps: Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, said that one of the unexpected benefits of the company’s four-day work week trial run was that it narrowed workplace gender gaps – allowing women more flexibility within their schedules to balance the time they spend with their families and at work. A study comparing Sweden and the US showed that women are more likely to be employed in companies where their schedules can be flexible to their personal needs.
4Employee Loyalty and Preservation of Valuable Talent: Four-day work weeks could also be a good way for companies to make sure they’re not losing their talent to the better options that some high demand workers found during the pandemic. Happier, healthier employees will find it easier to stick around and remain loyal to companies that are making an effort to keep them that way.
5Better for the Environment: Countries with shorter work weeks are better for the planet, with different studies showing that reducing the work week to four days could have a significant impact on our carbon footprint. In fact, a study in the UK found that moving to a four-day week could reduce emissions by 127m tons – the equivalent of taking all private owned vehicles off the road.
Could four-day work weeks be the future of our workplaces? Maybe. It won’t happen overnight but the interest in testing its benefits is increasing. Pilot programs like 4 Day Week Global and the 4 Day Week Campaign are encouraging companies to test the four-day work week and helping potential employees find work in companies around the world where it’s already a reality.
Aline Cerdan Verástegui
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