Three lockdowns have made a large number of employees re-evaluate the notoriously tricky work-life balance. The four-day working week is seen as the perfect solution, designed to offer employees flexible hours and increase productivity during working hours.
To some large businesses the concept has proven more viable , so could the five-day working week the next traditional policy to be revisited?
In a sign that the idea of a shorter working week is indeed gaining moment, a six-month trial period of a four-day working week was launched this week across the UK, with 30 British companies expected to take part in the initial pilot.
As the trial has kicked off, City A.M. looks into some companies that introduced a shorter working week or could benefit from a four-day week, as well as the impact it is likely have on employees and business owners, with some experts warning that stress, isolation, anxiety and loneliness are likely to jump.
Recent research from Glass Door found that 52 per cent of employees reported that work regularly ate into their personal life, while 35% per cent said they did not believe a healthy work-life balance was possible in their current role.
Therefore, many eyes are currently on a four-day working week six-month pilot programme that launched on Monday in the UK.
Participating companies and organisations will trial a four-day week with no loss in pay for employees based on the principle of the 100:80:100 model – 100 per cent of the pay for 80 per cent of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain at least 100 per cent productivity.
Although more than 30 companies take part in the trial, many employers are not too keen on the idea, stressed Jamie Mackenzie, Director at Sodexo Engage.
“The idea of a four-day working week is not new, but by no means is any less polarising. Putting it to the test in the UK is an overdue move which could bring forward another burst in the evolution of work,” MacKenzie told City A.M.
“The five-day working week was cemented centuries ago, but at a time when workers had partners at home to handle cooking, cleaning, and childcare.”Jamie MacKenzie
“The world has changed a lot since then, and even if one doesn’t have children to fill up their hours, our understanding of wellbeing, especially mental health, and productivity has grown in leaps and bounds since the days of physically clocking in and out,” MacKenzie said.
“It’s rare for an employee to use the 40 plus hours a week they currently work in a continuously effective and productive manner. A pivot to four days a week could spell the end of meetings for meetings sake and help push more effective methods to get the job done.”
The best long-term example, so far, is Microsoft Japan. In August 2019, the company implemented a four-day week giving their 2,300 employees five Fridays off in a row, and the results were a success.
Productivity jumped 40 per cent, meetings were more efficient, and workers – who were also happier – took a lot less time off.
Nine out of ten employees at the company said they preferred the shorter working week and other benefits, including a 23 per cent reduction in weekly electricity use.
Also, the company saw a 59 per cent decrease in the number of pages printed by employees, which were also welcomed by employers.
‘More stress, more loneliness’
The UK trial – for a 100:80:100 model – focuses heavily on maintaining 100 per cent productivity from employees with 20 per cent less time at work, so the same amount of work in less time, stressed Rich Westman, the CEO and founder of Kaido, a team-building platform for businesses.
Westman told City A.M. that this could lead to higher stress levels during those four days as employees “fight to ensure tasks are completed, as well as further impacting employees’ sense of connection to colleagues and subsequent sense of belonging to the business.”
“We’ve already seen record-high levels of loneliness at work, during the pandemic.”Rich Westman, CEO of Kaido
“Companies taking part in the trial will need to ensure that they are continuing to introduce initiatives into those four days, rather than relying on a three-day weekend being enough and spending time considering how the four-day week is realistically implemented,” he added.
“We’ve already seen record-high levels of loneliness at work during the pandemic, and with one less day in the office, it is important we don’t lose that team connection and work harder at maintaining those relationships as well as hitting deadlines,” Westman said.
Startups and e-commerce
Despite the risk of increased loneliness, an increased digital society is suited for a four-day working week, some argue, since practically all startups and e-commerce businesses rely heavily on the internet to stay afloat, providing a faster, convenient, and more efficient way of performing business transactions.
“Starting a business takes a lot of time, energy, money, and creativity, and opting for a four-day week is one way many businesses choose to reduce expenses,” said Sam O’Brien, chief marketing officer at performance marketing platform Affise.
He pointed out that with many e-commerce sites offering services online both day and night, this means employees will be required to offer customer service support around the clock, making them feel overworked.
Marketing and sales
While marketing and sales jobs can offer higher salaries, the heavy workloads and extreme competitiveness can take their toll on employees working in the notoriously fast-paced sector.
Some advertising and promotions managers regularly boast on social media about their 40, 50 or even 60 hour working weeks.
“Those working in marketing can have the stress of competitors and keeping up to date with the digital world, which has not been easy during the course of the pandemic,” O’Brien said.
“The effects of the past two years have resulted in many extra hours spent isolated, at home, and looking at computer screens while sitting in uncomfortable chairs- extremely bad for both your mental health, vision and posture,” he added.
During the pandemic, it was believed that introducing a four-day working week would boost high street sales by an estimated £58bn.
This is because three-day weekends would give shoppers not only 20 per cent more time to buy, but also to consume, namely by increasing spending related to hobbies, gardening and DIY.
“Therefore shortened weeks could boost areas that have been hit the most, including hospitality, as people will be able to spend more time eating out and socialising with loved ones during their extra free time with the same disposable income coming in,” O’Brien said.