Should we revert to a four-day week?
From Monday 6th June, approximately 70 UK businesses began taking part in a trial where employees move from working a five-day week to working a four-day week. The BBC got some interesting opinions on this trial which you can see here. Here at BusinessQuotes.co.uk, our philosophy has always been to ‘get the job done’ rather than ‘is this person working their 36.5 hours per week over five days. If a four-day week does become the norm in time, it is important to realise that Henry Ford, the founder of Ford, moved his employees from a six-day week to a five-day week after the Great Depression in 1926.
Which way is best?
Get the Job Done
- An employee who has the flexibility and has earnt the employer’s trust to just ‘get the job done’ regardless of the number of hours could arguably be less efficient. If they care so much, will they ever switch off? With all the talk about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, is someone relaxed when they are, as an example, watching their child’s nativity play or are they sitting there thinking about the work tasks that they need to get done?
- Ultimately it really depends on the individual. Someone who is good at switching off from work will really benefit from having the flexibility to plan their work time around their interests outside of work. Someone who finds it hard to switch off will probably benefit more from the structure of working from 9am to 5pm five days a week with one hour for lunch.
- It is also important to consider the job role. Does the job role allow for such flexibility? At BusinessQuotes, when we used to have a call centre, it would have been very hard to allow someone the flexibility to dip in and out of work as they please as we had incoming calls to answer. Customers are ultimately the ones who provide the revenue to be able to pay people’s wages. On the flip side, with my role being to write content for BusinessQuotes, I can do this at anytime of the day or night. Would the fact that my job can be done at any time have a negative impact on the employees that aren’t in roles that allow such flexibility?
The real question is whether the 5-day work week is really the optimal amount of time to spend at work to get the most work done. On the face of it, this would appear to make sense. You’re at work for one more day, so surely you’re able to get one more day’s worth of work done? However, initial results from around the world are suggesting the opposite. Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based company, conducted an eight-week trial in the spring of 2018 in which they reduced the working week from 5 days to 4.
Contrary to the initial question, job performance and productivity actually slightly improved. Job stress declined from 45% to 38%, the employees’ commitment to the employer went up from 68% to 88%, and the work-life balance went from 54% to 78%. The conclusion to draw here is that with fewer hours spent in the workspace, employees could spend more time relaxed and recharging, so when they returned to work, they didn’t feel as run-down or tired, therefore able to perform at a higher level.
Of course, this is just one company in one country over a two-month period, hardly long enough to change the entire framework of the business world. However, the findings are definitive enough to have prompted global discussion about this issue. The potential benefits are also significant:
- A smaller carbon footprint and lower usage of wasteful material would likely follow. With fewer workers commuting to their jobs, there would be fewer cars on the road over the course of the week. Furthermore, with an extra day to prepare food at home, we could see a lower need to buy food to go, which often comes in plastic wrapping, which adds to the growing waste concern.
- Higher workplace engagement – From 2015 to 2017, the Swedish government conducted a study for a shorter working week in which nurses at care homes worked only 6 hours for five days a week instead of 8. The results showed that the nurses arranged 85% more activities for their patients, recorded fewer sick days, and reported better mental health. Since returning to the 8-hour days, the nurses reported having less time for their families and being overly tired throughout the week.
It will be interesting to see the results of the UK trial and if they yield the same results as the studies in Sweden and New Zealand. The fact of the matter is, in all cases so far, employees have reported better mental health and work-life balances without productivity suffering. We shall wait and see if this becomes the norm in the future.