However, reducing the working week represents a major change to the way businesses operate— this doesn't suit every business or every employee. The demand for the four-day week. Developments in technology have long been expected to reduce the ...and more »
Calls for a four-day week are growing louderPexels
In September, the U.K’s Trade Union Council (TUC) called for a maximum four-day working week. Its report found that 81% of its members wanted a reduction of at least a day. Supporters of the four-day week proposal emphasize various benefits such as reduced stress, increased productivity and happier, more engaged employees. However, reducing the working week represents a major change to the way businesses operate— this doesn’t suit every business or every employee.
The demand for the four-day week
Developments in technology have long been expected to reduce the number of hours people work per week. However, the TUC reported that it has actually led to unpredictable, more intensive and longer hours at work. “Always-connected” technology has also created instances of digital presenteeism, where workers feel required to constantly be available to work. With stress and long hours being workers’ biggest concerns according to the study, calls for a reduced working week are growing louder.
As well as this, if customers expect people to be available five days a week, workers who are absent on one of these days could present a challenge to consistent levels of output. While many may feel refreshed with an extra day off work weekly, businesses could be at risk of a drop in productivity following the spikes of the days leading up to it.
Further, a trial of the four-day week conducted in New Zealand at trust company Perpetual Guardian in Spring 2018 raised questions about the benefits of the shorter week. Employees experienced additional stress through having to break the terms of the trial to keep up with a busy work period. While there was no decrease in work quality, no improvement was seen either. There were also some individuals who missed the social aspect of their longer working week or found it more difficult to occupy themselves outside of the office.
Technology and flexible working
Since there is a lack of evidence to suggest a four-day week would have any direct benefits to businesses’ bottom lines, the case for using it depends largely upon improving the work-life balance of employees. However, with technology enabling greater flexibility for workers, businesses need to consider whether a four-day week is the best way to improve the lives of staff, or if it is time to consider encouraging flexible working.
Research from the Smarter Working Initiative, a U.K-wide initiative to encourage businesses to introduce flexible working, found that over half (53%) of U.K workers say they would be more productive if they could spend time working out of the office, while 70% believed the option to work remotely would make a job more attractive.
These statistics point to a move away from the traditional 9 to 5 structure towards a working culture that fits around employees’ lifestyles. In order to attract and retain top talent, businesses need to be aware that workers are increasingly placing an emphasis on the value of a good work-life balance. They also need to encourage employees to use technology to work away from the office as and when they need to.
As well as offering the possibility of improved employee satisfaction and reduced stress, flexible working can also contribute to greater business productivity. The Office for National Statistics found that the U.K’s overall productivity is 26% lower than Germany, where over half of employees are offered flexible working, compared to only a third of U.K workers. Increased flexible working is known to contribute to improved bottom lines and higher GDP, indicating a strong link between flexible working and improved productivity.
Ultimately, four-day working weeks shouldn’t be necessary. With advancements in technology and accessibility leading to smarter ways of working, employees should be able to select a way of working that best suits them and their lifestyle. Whether this is part-time or working flexible hours, businesses should look to embrace new, innovative ways of working in order to boost productivity and improve job satisfaction and work-life balance for their employees.
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