In 1926, the Ford Motor Company did something radical. They became the first American organisation to reduce the work week from six to five days. Eventually, workplaces all over the world joined in, and the 5-day work week became the norm.
Many people believe that in this post-pandemic, high-stress world, we’re ready for a new intervention. In one of our Linkedin polls, 75% respondents claimed they have plans to switch to a 4 day work week, 16% are still considering it and 9% are against it.
The 4 day work week has been a widely discussed topic in recent times. For the last several weeks, 3,300 workers in the UK have been trying out a 4 day work week policy. It’s the world’s biggest experiment so far, and we’re already seeing some positive results.
COVID-19 seems like a distant dream but is very much still a reality. By now, most people are burnt out and are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. Even in pre-corona times, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that about 2 million people died from work-related causes each year. This seems like a good time to rethink the boundaries between work and play.
As per the World Economic Forum, health and well-being are one of the top 5 goals of a Good Work Framework. In the UK, 80% of people prefer a 4 day work week, according to a survey by Reed. This clearly calls to attention the need for people to have more free time for personal tasks, spend time with family or have more time to rest and relax.
But does a shorter work week guarantee positive results? Let’s discuss the pros and cons.
Some of the world’s most productive countries like Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands work about 27 hours a week. The same hours are being currently proposed for the UK’s 4 day work week. Research shows that when employees spend less time working, they feel happier. Overworked or tired employees are less productive than ones who are able to live full lives.
Mental health charity Mind reports that 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem in England. A 4 day work week ensures they have enough time to focus on personal well-being, causing fewer burnouts.
Studies have shown leisure time needs to be as much—if not more—as work time for us to be well-rounded, healthy people. As an employer, the more flexibility and free time you offer your employees, the more they’re likely to respect you and stick around.
Even with remote work being the trend, a sizeable chunk of people still drive to their workplaces. With shorter work weeks employees need to commute much less.
A recent report states that by 2025, 4 day work week could slash the UK’s annual carbon footprint by 127 metric tons. That is equivalent to 27 million cars off the road. Imagine the positive impact of that on our carbon footprint in the long run. Embracing shorter work weeks seems like a great model for sustainability and working in the face of climate change.
Flexible working patterns and fewer work hours attract talented candidates. Most employees today like to have the choice to explore their own styles of working: be it work-from-home, work-from-abroad or a hybrid model. With longer weekends, employees are less likely to feel stressed or call in sick because they have more time to rest and rejuvenate. Well-rested employees are more likely to return to work with more motivation and commitment. Those who feel they have thriving social and personal lives feel more willing to take on new challenges.
Tech companies are currently at the forefront of adopting a 4 day work week since they can afford to offer more flexibility in work schedules. However, for blue collar jobs such as in plants and factories, a 4 day work week can cause delays and backlogged orders. For certain other industries like logistics, healthcare, public transport and emergency services, a shorter week is hard to implement. They may require increasing the number of workers to compensate for shorter weeks, which may lead to higher costs.
Certain studies have shown some employees ended up putting in the same amount of hours despite shorter work weeks. In those cases, the company might have to pay their employees overtime or offer comp-offs, which leads to added expenses.
Reducing the number of work hours does not guarantee lower levels of workload or stress. How people use and manage their time is based on individual circumstances and habits. So, despite 4 day work weeks, some employees may feel compelled to overcompensate by working longer hours, or checking their emails on their off days as well. Managing teams over shorter durations can also be challenging, especially if operations need to run 24/7.
In the 1930s, Kellog’s offered their workers six-hour shifts instead of the usual eight hour shifts for the same pay. Productivity went up, accidents went down, and people’s lives genuinely improved. Workers had more time to take care of themselves, join sports teams, and pursue hobbies.
So perhaps the question we should be asking is: how do we find the balance between work and play to ensure employees are happy? The answer need not lie in shorter weeks, but in shorter work hours, less stress, healthy company culture and a flexible working policy.
At WorkMotion, we have a team of in-house experts who specialise in global hiring and remote working. If you’d like to understand more about how you can build a diverse team and reap the benefits of remote-first policies, talk to one of our experts today.
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