The boss floats the idea to our team that maybe, we should consider working an additional two hours each day, and transition to a four-day workweek at the office.
Hmm. Sounds interesting. The more we thought about it and discussed among colleagues, the more attractive the idea became.
Like many knowledge workers around the world, working from home during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as a mitigation measure against spread of the viral illness, presented new possibilities and approaches to workplace productivity.
The office and the home became one. For some employees, it offered a chance to re-examine work and family-life priorities. Working parents spent more time together with their children. There was also a renewed appreciation for how we handle workplace tasks and family responsibilities.
That was 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has rescinded and it’s back to the office bustle and the watercooler chill times. The year 2022 was about recovery and rebound, and in 2023, the focus of corporate leaders and governments is on expansion, meeting new targets, and solidifying positions.
In the office, our team members were gung ho about the possibility of a three-day weekend. Who wouldn’t be? As the pros and cons were evaluated, the idea was mooted of maintaining the traditional Saturday-Sunday weekend but introducing any chosen day in the week as the third off day.
This was in response to concerns about possible disruptions in business to business relationships if the office were to be closed Thursday through Sunday. Despite the out-of-the-box thinking by our boss, the corporate landscape is still filled with traditionalists who are not yet convinced of the benefits of a four-day week .
Whatever methodology is finally chosen, the debate among managers and employees centre around the issue of maintaining and even exceeding productivity targets. Would our company be regarded as “not serious” or “too relaxed”? Would we be perceived as not as productive when measured against our direct competitors since our team members would be off the job for three days each week and with full pay?
These are real life challenges to be confronted in the race to retain the best talent, keep them happy and at their productive best. Most important, companies want to reduce the chances their best people will take off to join competitors.
While there has not been a global movement or even consensus around the adoption of this alternative work arrangement, there has been some research on the subject.
Robert Bird, Professor of Business Law at The University of Connecticut’s School of Law, wrote an extensive paper on the subject. His first assertion was the need to separate flexible work arrangements from the compressed work week.
Some flexible work arrangements allow employees to come in later and leave later in the evening or arrive earlier and leave earlier than the regularly scheduled work hours.
The traditional 5/40 week would be substituted for employees working three 12-hour days or four 10-hour days in the week. Professor Bird outlines our traditional 5/40 workweek is a far cry from the six-day-96-hour week once a common feature before trade unions successfully battled such egregious conditions.
Belgium has introduced the four-day workweek for those who want to and has backed it with legislation in November 2022. In Iceland, 90 percent of workers are on a compressed work week, while the United Kingdom and Spanish trials by some companies have received positive reviews.
Here are some pros and cons employers ought to consider if contemplating a four-day workweek for their teams.
Among the pros:
- Workers insist it triggers a better work-life balance.
- Workers are just simply happier.
- Employee turnover drops significantly.
- Stress levels tend to fall as employees enjoy more time for social activities.
- Most studies suggest productivity in the workplace is not impacted negatively by a reduced workweek.
- It contributes to less traffic congestion and greater energy conservation. (Remember during the pandemic when harmful carbon in the air dropped dramatically!)
- Reports of increased employee fatigue due to longer shifts especially among mothers with young children.
- Some workers without dependents tended to prefer a shorter workday, rather than shorter workweeks.
- There is some ambiguity about whether a truncated workweek actually reduces absenteeism rates.
- Not all workers can benefit, such as shift workers.
- Some additional hiring may be necessary for companies offering 24-hour services such as healthcare facilities. This can lead to increased costs.
- When the shorter workweek is optional, those who choose it are sometimes perceived as less productive and less “pro-company”.
Author – Geralyn Edward is a multi-award winning business writer.