The prospect of adjusting to a four-day workweek has many businesses apprehensive. But what if the data does not result in productivity and revenue graphs plummeting? Perhaps there are unexpected business advantages when considering this radical new trend.
Since we are well into Year Three of the pandemic, businesses are very much aware of the work-family dynamics that have challenged people and organizations everywhere. Parents have struggled to find child care, and conforming with the series of school-mandated COVID tests are just a couple of examples of employees needing a more flexible work schedule.
Business pressure to find skilled workers is amplified due to the tight competition and high demand. Many companies are considering a four-day workweek to attract top talent and avoid The Great Resignation.
This article will take you through the workweek history and intriguing facts that will explain why this new work craze is gaining traction worldwide.
History of the 5-Day Workweek
“Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest,” said labor activist Robert Owen in 1817. The Welsh textile mill owner and philanthropist did not know it would take over a hundred years before this eventually caught on.
In 1926 Henry Ford developed a new working standard for his automobile factories. At this point, the US government began to acknowledge the 40-hour workweek formally. However, Ford didn’t do this for his employee’s well-being. He realized that if companies were to profit, customers needed to buy things, which meant workers needed time off to shop.
The US has kept this standard ever since. Over 100 years later, this structure is still the norm for 8 hours a day, five days a week. Even with the tremendous technological advancements that have taken place over the past 30 years, workers still put in a 40-hour workweek.
Leading the Pack
Iceland began several large-scale research trials between 2015-2019 to track and record data for workers only working four days a week. This research was the first large trial of a shortened workweek within the public sector. The result? By all measures, it was an “overwhelming success.”
Employees’ well-being increased among a range of indicators such as stress, employee burnout, and work-life balance. This study was such an astonishing success that currently, 86% of workers in Iceland have the option of working just four days a week without a decline in their pay.
Other countries are quickly following suit. Spain started a larger project that will encompass 200 companies reducing their employees’ workweek to 32-hours without cutting pay. Scotland, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, the UK, Belgium, and many more have announced they would conduct similar trials without changing workers’ compensation.
What began as a small trend is heating up fast and currently involves over 35 American companies (and growing) and over 20 countries worldwide that have started offering a reduced workweek.
It is counterintuitive to think that working fewer hours would produce more worker output, but this is precisely what the data has revealed. Reducing the number of hours worked forces companies to prioritize their essential tasks, remove superfluous meetings and other distractions, and use technology to automate business processes.
These changes make employees’ work more accessible. A 2016 study by Ginger Research in the UK showed that the average worker only accomplishes less than 3 hours of work each day, regardless of how many hours they physically spend at the office.
The takeaway from this study and others is that overworked employees are less productive than those working fewer hours. A Stanford University study found that productivity during 60-hour weeks was less than two-thirds of when 40 hours were worked.
In addition to increased productivity, a four-day workweek has been shown to decrease worker sick days, increase sales, improve employee retention, increase company loyalty, and produce more job applicants.
Even though the data for a four-day workweek has been overwhelmingly positive, there are still challenges that companies have to overcome. For example, many employers insist on the same level of productivity, which means the same work gets squeezed into fewer hours. The result can be hectic days and exhausted evenings.
A condensed workweek allows less time for office socializing. Some respondents said this was a bonus, but many workers depended on the water cooler chats to help offset stress and anxiety.
Sometimes four days doesn’t mean four. Trial participants said that a four-day workweek was four-standard, 8 hour days, and then a half-day to catch up. Some fear that it is only time before companies start paying less for the same output.
Regardless of the drawbacks, there are many happy tales from workers with newfound freedom in life. They have more time to incorporate exercise, quality time with their kids, or catch up on doctor appointments and errands.
Issues of work-life balance are very much on people’s minds when looking for a new job opportunity. But to make this trend more widespread, we need to have a significant shift in how we think about work and embrace the changes already in effect.
Many business owners and employees agree that a two-day weekend isn’t enough time to recharge fully. The WHO recently announced that employee burnout is considered an occupational phenomenon, and this burnout is forcing business owners to prioritize their employees and their own mental well-being.
Also, the growth in AI technology will significantly disrupt every aspect of every industry around the globe. How and when we work is about to change drastically, and some say this transformation will happen much sooner than we think.
Finally, suppose workers can complete the same amount of work without diminishing the business’s bottom line, or actually improving it. In that case, it is hard to come up with why this policy shouldn’t be more widespread. At the very least, businesses should seriously rethink retention strategies such as a decreased workweek to avoid losing leading talent in an increasingly competitive labor market because the cost of replacing and training employees continues to reach new heights.
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