Why 4 is the new 5 (or is it?)
HCG recently published a poll on our LinkedIn social media page to try and understand what, if any, behavioral change may occur if British employers changed the employed working week from a standard 5 day week to a 4 day week. Workers become accustomed to 4 day working weeks during times when there are national bank holidays, but what are the long-term benefits for both businesses and employees if adopting this new way of working and making a 4-day working week the norm?
As we move out of the pandemic, the data that we are aware of and have collected suggests that the pattern of the working week is already changing. Hybrid and flexible working are becoming increasingly popular as employees are demanding more of their employers. Many employees are reporting increased productivity and an increase in satisfaction and wellbeing. Employers and employees alike are constantly re-evaluating what the perfect combination is when it comes to the workplace and working style offerings, as many look for continued fluidity and flexibility.
It was recently reported in the UK press, that 30 companies covering nearly 2,000 employees have signed up to trial a 4-day working week from the summer of 2022. Companies taking part believe that such a change, if adopted universally, could result in higher productivity, enhanced wellbeing for employees and increased retention levels amongst their workforce.
Challenging the status quo comes with its challenges. Would the average working day be extended in order to supplement lost time from the working day that once existed? The long-term effect on employees wellbeing and mental health may be the inverse of the desired outcome that management originally intended. Net result could be burnt out and stressed employees working longer hours.
Certain industries such as banking, law, consulting, finance and many high-growth tech companies can often have a deeply embedded “do whatever it takes” culture where working long hours and weekends is the norm. Might this mean that if a 4-day week is implemented, employees will be working 16-20 hour days to get goal-based objectives over the line? Or in reality will they carry on as normal?
There is, however, strong alternative research that suggests a 4 day working week can lead to happier and more committed employees. There is evidence that employees working a 4-day week are less likely to be stressed or take sick leave as they have plenty of time to rest and recover. As a result, they return to work feeling ready to face the challenges in front of them.
We as a nation are becoming increasingly obsessive about productivity, creativity and wellbeing. Would a 4 day working week help with these areas? Perhaps if we used our extra day to spend time away from emails and zoom calls and instead used it for learning, reading or spending time outside in nature or exercising, we might be more likely to find the inspiration we are looking for.
Perhaps having a weekday available means that staff won't need to make personal calls or schedule dentist appointments during work time. Some might use this extra day to run personal errands instead of using their lunch break to complete these tasks.
Research on the gender pay gap shows that roughly two million British people are not currently employed due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women. A 4-day working week would promote more of an equal workplace as employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better juggle care and work commitments.
There is also the argument that a shorter working week would not only benefit our mental health, but also the environment and the economy. Countries with shorter working hours typically have a smaller carbon footprint, so reducing the working week from 5 to 4 days could have an enormous environmental benefit. Shortening our working week means that employees don’t need to commute as much and if employees all have the same weekday off, large office buildings would only be in use 4 days a week.
Many companies have already made changes to how they work and what their working week looks like. For example, at HCG we finish at 4pm each Friday. We also have a monthly Friday afternoon team meeting or this time is used for staff training. There is also a move towards measuring teams on output instead of attendance. A 4-day working week feels like a step towards this.
In addition to our recent LinkedIn poll, we have been engaging with the market to gather data on how a 4-day working week might work in practice. One company HCG spoke to recently, is taking the approach of not asking its staff to work on a Wednesday. The company informed us that this mid-week ‘hump’ break has benefited staff, ensuring they are refreshed for the second half of the week.
Another approach has been to split employees or teams into two groups and apply a week 1/week 2 pattern. This method of rotating who works on what day ensures 5-days per week coverage and could help with continuity throughout the business and for clients.
Would you be less stressed if you worked 4 days per week? Would you enjoy work more? Would you be able to obtain the same career success? Would you be able to invest more time in loved ones? Many would argue that if we were to spend only 4-days a week working the answer to each of these questions would be yes. This is also aligned with the belief that the amount of work we do is not actually linked to the amount of time we have.
Whilst a 4-day working week may not be feasible for all businesses or industries, there certainly could be some benefits for many. For those who feel this may be an option for their business, perhaps a trial period might be the next step.