Experts examine the pros and cons of the potentially game-changing pilot scheme
This week, more than 70 companies are kicking off a four-day work week. Over 3,000 employees will be working a shorter week, with no impact on salary, between now and December as part of a nationwide pilot project.
Between 2020 and 2022, the pandemic “moved the goalposts” on office life. As a result, many workers experienced the flexibility and work-life balance of remote working for the first time during this period. On the back of that, many organisations are now trying to work out new, more productive ways of working. If successful, this scheme is likely to completely change the working world as we know it.
Experts have examined the possible impacts of this change and question whether this change is a gimmick or a progressive move to the future. Before adopting the four-day work week, businesses are encouraged to examine their reasons for making this change and consider whether this development will truly solve any problems or simply plaster over bigger issues.
Laura Baldwin, President at O’Reilly, commented: “When it comes to work schedules, what people really care about is flexibility. It’s not about four days or five. Either is still very prescriptive and doesn’t account for the varied reasons many employees want flexibility – for example, to manage five-day-a-week school pick up hours. For the burnt out, overworked employees who went above and beyond during the pandemic, fewer hours, worked flexibly across five days is likely to mean more than a four-day slog.”
“For businesses, the four-day week can also create complicated scheduling nightmares – especially for smaller organisations. While some larger organisations can implement A/B schedules where, for example, half of the employees are off on the Friday and the other half, Monday, this won’t work for smaller teams that need cover all week. Instead, there needs to be more effort invested in creating real cultures of flexibility, which can best serve employees without forgetting the needs of customers.”
“Quite simply, customers expect (at least) a five-day-a-week service and until every organisation moves to four days as standard there will be a very hard balancing act to cut to four. Dropping the ball on customer experience to pay lip service to flexibility is a losing strategy for all.”
“If you’re thinking about a four-day workweek, use it as a prompt to ask, what is it that you are really trying to solve? Are you trying to create a shortcut to flexibility? Will this rather drastic move really create the flexibility your employees want? Will it enable work-life balance, but also get the work done? Could it be you are looking for a sticking plaster to bigger issues? Rather than embracing trust and flexibility for your teams, are you just seeking another way to exert control behind a facade of a four-day gimmick?”
In his recent blog on the subject, Ken Brotherston, CEO at TALiNT Partners also questions whether this was a situation of designing a problem to fit a solution.
He asked where the idea of working less originated. If society begins to work less and results in lower growth and higher national debt, we may be creating bigger problems for future generations.
Another concern is that while this new scheme could create an improved work-life balance for some workers, without clear boundaries, staff could feel more burnt out than before as they’ll have to complete five days of work in four.
Staff will need guidance to help them adjust to the change, to ensure that they’re not working additional hours in the four days that they are working. This creates more issues for leadership teams who are already having to deal with burnout among staff since working from home became a full-time gig. There is no divide between work and home.
Andrew Duncan, Partner and EMEA CEO, Infosys Consulting, commented: “Many businesses are acutely aware of the positive impact that location-agnostic policies can have on employee wellbeing. It is clear that flexibility-forward is the approach of the future, however, ensuring these policies are properly structured is key to making them a success.
“With the launch of four-day working week trials, outlining clear parameters around these policies will be vital. Failure to do so risks a downturn in quality as talent attempts to squeeze the same amount of work into a shorter week.
“This also poses risks from a people management point of view potentially resulting in burnout or staff working outside of agreed hours, setting back aims to improve work-life balance.”
Paul Modley, Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at AMS, commented: “The flexibility of being able to work four days a week will certainly help create a better work-life balance for some workforces. However, this concept is new to individuals and businesses alike. The key hurdle to overcome if this is to be successful is the careful management of workloads. If staff are cutting their hours by 20% but their workload and delivery expectations remain the same, employers could face a scenario where people are struggling to meet expectations and failing to take breaks or working overtime during the new working week in order to gain an additional day off.”
“With the right communication and careful management a four day week can work, but without appropriate implementation, employees can become disengaged with a brand or even feel disgruntled with the forced reduction of days. In an economy where talent shortages are rife and retaining staff is a critical business priority, it’s important to ensure that any changes to work set ups are delivering against the needs of individuals as well as the company. At AMS all of our roles can flex to some degree so we have experience in making different working methods successful across the globe. It’ll be interesting to see the results of this trial, but the information that will be most valuable from my point of view will be the feedback of staff themselves, not just the productivity data from the businesses.”
Regardless of the outcome, this new way of working is sure to divide the workforce with flexible and hybrid working already becoming a bug bear to those employers who want their staff back in the office full-time, post-pandemic.