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The 4 Day work week trials a success or a skive?


Numerous studies on the reduced workweek have shown encouraging findings. For some businesses, it’s becoming a more practical option, but for others, this new arrangement won’t be an option.

Four-day workweeks were once considered such a pipe dream that they hardly registered on the minds of most employees and employers. However, numerous businesses all around the world have tested this setup in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and have seen encouraging outcomes.

A six-month trial involving 33 volunteer organizations in the US and Ireland in 2022 shown a beneficial impact on business performance, productivity, and employee wellbeing. Employees who worked the shorter workweek reported improved work-life balance, reduced stress, and weariness. The trial received a nine out of ten rating from the 27 companies that completed a final survey.

In a 2022 UK trial with 70 enterprises, 86% of the businesses claimed the four-day workweek was so successful that they intended to continue using it when the pilot program was over. They listed advantages like improved productivity and significant cost savings for workers on childcare and transportation. Similar experiments have produced equally encouraging results for businesses in Belgium, Spain, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Employees appear especially eager to standardize shorter workweeks, which is understandable.

Nevertheless, many workers still seem to be unable to work a four-day workweek, despite the overwhelming favorable findings. It is tougher to imagine the similar change for schoolteachers or office workers in more traditional organizations, but tech workers in nimble, forward-thinking companies may expect for such a benefit in the near future. Ultimately, the four-day workweek may not be practical for all employees – at least not right now – due to specific businesses and strongly ingrained work cultures.

Locating the ideal fit

The industries that rely on technology and offices have thus far made the biggest strides toward reducing work hours.

According to Joe O’Connor, director and co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence in Toronto, “it is really taking off as a notable trend in areas like tech, software, ICT [internet communication technology], finance and professional services – knowledge-based roles that used to be primarily office-based, but are now in many cases are hybrid or remote.”

Such businesses generally have an innovation and agility mindset instilled in them, but they also have an advantage in terms of quick, simple fixes. A significant reduction in work hours can be achieved while maintaining output with the help of strategies like introducing meeting-free days, which are much easier to implement in agile organizations.

Everywhere we go, from non-profits to manufacturing firms to even the hospitality industry, we see highly successful examples.

Shortening the workweek in other industries is feasible, but it necessitates challenging long-held beliefs. For example, the practice of consulting and law is frequently structured around the idea of the billable hour, which states that less effort equates to lower pay. According to O’Connor, however, these cultures can change. “We’re starting to see examples of law firms moving to four-day weeks by switching from billing by the hour to billing by project value, or by reducing their non-billable overheads so that their teams are more focused on client work,” he said.

For businesses in these less adaptable industries, the viability of this shorter workweek might also differ from what other, more nimble businesses and sectors are able to do.

For instance, according to Pedro Gomes, author of Friday is the new Saturday and coordinator of an upcoming Portuguese government trial of the four-day workweek, “if [these firms] close on Friday and give everyone the same day off, that makes coordination with clients, suppliers, and the rest of the economy harder.” The option is to give various employees different days off so that you may continue working five days a week, but you then require communication protocols in teams to be able to handle days when coworkers are absent.

In light of this, while cooperative workplaces like advertising agencies may decide to have everyone take the same day off in order to improve team coordination, sectors that depend on trade throughout the week, like hospitality and service, may set up procedures for salaried, non-shift workers to take off different days. Many experts think the four-day workweek can be adjusted in this way to work for most industries. O’Connor continues, “We have seen highly successful instances everywhere, from non-profits to manufacturing firms, even hotels.”

An established culture

In the modern workplace, factors like firm size and culture may be crucial indicators of whether an organization will successfully embrace a shorter workweek. Few significant worldwide companies have tested the four-day workweek to this far.

Despite successful trials by Unilever and Microsoft in New Zealand and Japan, other large firms have been sluggish to follow suit. Large organizations have the financial resources to change, but Gomes notes that their structures are significantly more rigid. In reality, small and medium-sized businesses are more likely to test the four-day workweek because they are more adaptable and typically have a CEO or founder who has a clear understanding of how it will affect the entire company.

To put it another way, executives at smaller companies might have to deal with less red tape and find it simpler to predict how widespread change will affect their organization as a whole than executives at large, expansive multinational corporations with complicated organizational structures.

A particular sort of manager, however, may be hesitant to changing deeply ingrained conventions in organizations of all sizes, creating a considerable hurdle to the implementation of shorter weeks. Although the four-day workweek movement is expanding globally, it is still not a common workplace practice. Implementing such a significant change calls for a high degree of trust between managers and employees. Managers are unlikely to want to even test the change if they don’t believe that staff can make it successful. (Notably, managers have struggled greatly with productivity-related trust concerns throughout the pandemic.)

According to Benjamin Laker, professor at Henley Business School in Reading, UK, “the largest challenge to organizations implementing four-day workweeks is probably a combination of established culture and resistive bosses.” The reduced workweek “may be seen by some managers as decreasing their control or making it more challenging to manage staff.” In other words, risk-averse managers could wonder why they would alter a successful system.

Employee dissatisfaction with four-day workweeks has frequently been accompanied by claims of management stepping up production, monitoring, and performance expectations. Therefore, even if many employees mention improved wellbeing in some areas, the impact of these new factors may increase employee stress levels. “An organization would probably struggle to make this work if it doesn’t have that trust culturally and instead has a very top-down, centralized decision-making structure,” says O’Connor.

Although the four-day workweek movement is gaining momentum globally, it is still not a common workplace practice, and implementing such significant change calls for a high level of trust between managers and employees.
Four-day workweeks are probably out of the question for other organizations that pay hourly and provide services, such as restaurants, retail, and healthcare, since a shorter workweek and consequently fewer shifts result in reduced income. Even though workers in various businesses would probably gain similarly from lighter workloads, it might be impossible to reduce labor requirements if doing so would result in lower pay.

The current norm

Despite opposition from some authorities, experts predict that the four-day workweek will likely gain popularity.

The 32-hour workweek is emerging as “a weapon for competitive advantage in terms of talent, attraction, and retention” in industries that are already embracing the change, according to O’Connor. “In the computer industry, you may see a scenario where not providing a four-day workweek is nearly a competitive disadvantage by 2026.”

Additionally, when more businesses make the conversion, those who have not yet done so may feel compelled to follow suit. While the employment market is coordinated on a four-day week, the rest of the economy is forced to follow suit, according to Gomes. “It’s hard to execute a four-day week when the rest of the economy is structured in a five-day week,” he adds.

Even so, he claims that it would take “many years” to bring about such wide-scale societal transformation and that some industries would necessarily be neglected. Schools, for instance, might find it difficult to implement a four-day workweek for full-time employees unless a significant number of parents already work similar schedules.

In addition, it’s possible that businesses will choose less extreme alternatives to a four-day workweek. No-meeting days, flexible work schedules, and other cutting-edge work-life balance strategies, according to Laker, will soon become commonplace.

Although the experiment with a shortened workweek may not yet be widely adopted, there is impetus for it to continue globally. The four-day workweek will be tested in 2023 in a number of countries, including Scotland, Australia, Spain, and more.

The phrase “the genie’s out of the bottle” comes to mind. We won’t resume our pre-pandemic methods of operation, declares O’Connor. In the same way that the current five-day workweek is not entirely representative of the economy, a four-day workweek may eventually become the norm.

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