EngagementCultureCan shortening the working week actually improve company culture?

Can shortening the working week actually improve company culture?

The idea of a four-day working week is not a new one, but it is increasingly being discussed as an alternative to the standard 9-5. Could a shorter working week really improve culture and wellbeing? HRD Connect investigates..

As we approach Christmas, many of us are looking forward to having a break from work and spending some quality time with loved ones. But for some, the added pressures of family life and health demands on top of work commitments at this time of year lead to stress, anxiety and eventually burnout.

Research from health provider Benenden Health found that one in eight UK workers took unapproved leave over Christmas for reasons such as these.

But although the Christmas period accentuates these issues, absenteeism as a result of stress and poor well-being is something that affects companies year-round.

Payroll and HR provider Moorepay found that four in ten employees surveyed have taken sick days as a result of workplace stress. Over half of those respondents said that a heavy workload was the main cause of that stress.

Issues such as these are some of the driving factors that contribute to poor workplace culture, leading to situations such as under-performance, negativity and even high turnover.

“A mentally well workforce is fundamental to a company’s success. A team that is happy and engaged has higher retention rates, attracts the best talent and delivers greater productivity,” said Anthony Vollmer, Managing Director at Moorepay.

Implementing flexible working arrangements such as a four-day working week has been touted as a potential remedy to workplace stress and a way to increase wellbeing and productivity.

In fact, earlier this year MP Helen Whately proposed a Bill would have required employers to include flexible working arrangements in contracts, although the Bill did not make it past first reading.

There is reason to believe that a four-day working week could improve workplace culture as well. In the past two years, there have been success stories from Microsoft Japan and a New Zealand based company called Perpetual Guardian who both trialled four-day working week with positive results.

Both companies reported an increase in productivity and happier staff as a result of greater work-life balance.

Yet the idea has been met with some resistance in the UK. A report commissioned by the Labour Party and carried out by Lord Robert Skidelsky found that it “is not realistic or even desirable” to impose a four-day work week on a national level, and there are fears that doing so could lead to lower wages.

However, UK companies who have trialled the shorter working week of their own accord have seen similar results to the Japanese and New Zealand examples.

Brighton-based international recruitment firm MRL Consulting Group trialled the four-day working week in March 2019 to find positive results.

“We’re an output-based business, so we’ve always been driven by results, rather than the time people spend at their desks,” said David Stone, CEO of MRL Consulting Group.

“I considered that if people could be really self-critical of the time they spend at work, cutting down the time spent scrolling and socialising, then we’d be able to give them Fridays off. The results generated during the six-month trial have led us to implement a four-day week working model on a permanent basis.”

The firm reported that during the trial, short term absence dropped by 40% and productivity increased by 25%, with nine out of ten staff reporting an improvement in their mental health.

MRL’s Operations Director, Kelly Robertson, noted the effect that the change had on employees.

“Since the trial started the team have had more time to spend on themselves, on their mental and physical health and with their families and you can really see the difference in the mood in the office.”

“People are more motivated to get their work done in a shorter time and it’s clear to see the benefits they’re experiencing.”

These findings were mirrored by Lizzie Benton, Founder and Culture Consultant, Liberty Mind, who helps UK SMEs improve their company culture.

“Reduced working hours have led to greater productivity because people are much smarter with the time they have available. When you cut the hours, most of the time you’re cutting down on pointless meeting, excessive use of emails, and other office activities which actually stifle productivity,” said Lizzie, who has helped a number of organisations to implement flexible working.

Similarly to MRL Consulting, Lizzie said that the companies Liberty Mind has worked with have seen “massive improvements” to staff wellbeing and a decrease in employee absenteeism.

Evidently there is a correlation between employees being happy and employees being more productive. Though this is not a one-size-fits-all solution to all issues that may arise with a companies’ culture, happy and healthy employees are the foundation of a good one.

With the rise in the number of companies trying it with positive results, it may only be a matter of time before the four-day working week is the new norm.

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