Friday 9 August 2019 4:38 am

No, a four-day week won’t miraculously cure the workplace of stress

Despite mooting plans to trial a four-day working week, research foundation the Wellcome Trust then did a complete U-turn on its proposal, following a review which found that the initiative could put extra pressure on some of its workforce. 

The news caught my eye because it confirmed what I already knew: while I wholeheartedly support a flexible working culture, imposing a shorter working week on employees won’t solve the UK’s stress and productivity crisis. Yet, our own research showed that nearly a third of employees think a four-day working week would relieve stress. 

In today’s always-on culture, it’s not surprising that people are looking for a way to manage this pressure. But shortening the working week could actually have the opposite effect, creating more pressure by cramming five days’ worth of work into four. 

Contrary to popular opinion, pressure isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, a certain amount can actually help improve people’s performance. 

The problem starts when pressure isn’t managed well – and that results in stress. 

Over a long period of time, stress can become a way of life, and workers subconsciously accept it as part of a normal working day. Worryingly, our research of UK workers shows that this is increasingly becoming the case, with 43 per cent saying that they usually feel stressed at work. 

The root cause of the issue seems to be the fact that there is not enough support from management. 

Close to half of the people we interviewed feel as though their business isn’t giving them the resources to cope with stress. This is concerning, especially when you consider that the large majority think that being able to better cope with stress would not just improve their overall wellbeing, but also their performance at work. 

With that in mind, what can businesses do to not just help their employees to better manage pressure, but actually enable them to use it to their advantage? 

One of the key problems today is that managers themselves are not receiving enough support, which has a cascading effect, as they find themselves unable to support those that they manage. 

When people get promoted into a management role, they are suddenly no longer just responsible for their own performance and wellbeing, but also for that of their entire team. 

This not only requires a shift in mindset, but a completely different set of skills. Almost everyone has a story of someone they know who is a high individual performer, but a terrible manager. 

To help people make the transition from individual performer to manager, businesses need to ensure that they provide an induction package to go alongside new management roles – and that they are keeping up this support on an ongoing basis. 

With company performance predicated by the skillset and capability of this group’s ability to support their team, providing the relevant resources and training to help them be better managers is a vital investment.  

People are more likely to work hard and perform if they are valued, and equipped with the tools they need to do their job and look after themselves. Also don’t underestimate the importance of having a bit of fun at work. 

Working fewer days in a week won’t miraculously cure the workplace of excessive stress. Instead, the trick for businesses is to help the workforce use pressure to their advantage, while offering  flexible working options which are suitable at the individual level, rather than an organisational imposed policy. 

This will benefit the wellbeing of their workforce, and the business bottom line.  

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.