Strategy & LeadershipIs the four-day week suitable for businesses?

Is the four-day week suitable for businesses?

Is it really time to implement a four-day working week? Nic Redfern, Financial Director, Know Your Money, analyzes the consequences for business.

We have seen major changes in working practices over the past few decades. As the UK and other developed nations have transformed into knowledge-driven service economies, the lion’s share of the population now works at desks and in offices.

To complement the shift towards office culture, we have also seen an increase in workplace connectivity. Through globalization and technological advancements, employees are able to connect with their offices at any time and from any location. This has brought about numerous shifts in attitudes towards working hours, with many employees beginning to challenge the typical 9-to-5 working day.

The workplace revolution

Such challenges have led to the rise of flexible working; an approach which allows greater freedom for employees to organize their own working day. Indeed, in a recent survey of 2,000 UK adults in full-time employment, Know Your Money revealed that 71% of people believe that flexible working is highly important to their overall job satisfaction.

As one might expect, flexible working can be adjusted to suit individual employees. Whether they work from home to avoid a stressful commute, or they come into the office later to complete the school run, flexible working enables each employee to adjust their working day in accordance to their needs. And evidence suggests that flexible working does have its benefits. After all, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development’s recent guidance on flexible working highlighted numerous case studies where employees saw improvements in motivation, mental well-being and productivity levels as a consequence of the policy. It is not a huge leap to infer that adopting flexible working would be beneficial to a business as well.

However, in the run-up to 2019’s general election, focus among employees has appeared to shift away from flexible working and toward the four-day week. Indeed, Know Your Money’s aforementioned research supports this, with three quarters of survey respondents claiming they would rather work extra hours four days a week if it meant having the fifth off work – showing just how much demand there is for more time spent fulfilling personal tasks and spending time with loved ones.

Is a four-day week viable?

At face value, it is possible to understand why individuals favor a four-day working week, as it grants employees an extra day away from the office and the potential to create a better work/life balance. There is an argument that it would also benefit businesses; the high profile example of Microsoft Japan’s trial of the system proved to significantly boost productivity and workplace morale.

However, other businesses might find this difficult to implement. For many within the modern workforce, it will be assumed four-day weeks is an extension of flexible working; for example, choosing not to work on Wednesdays, or spreading a 35-hour week over 7 days, if they so wish. In reality this may be difficult to manage, with numerous policies and structures needing to be introduced. In contrast, a four-day working week may require greater regimentation and the complex reorganization of timetables by managers.

Additionally, a four-day working week will not be a “general template” for all businesses. In the working world, such a policy can only be adopted by businesses who have the capacity to re-adapt their entire business to a new way of working. Developing and implementing a new organisational structure would likely require a huge financial and resource commitment – thus, it is unsurprising that employees are reluctant to wholeheartedly embrace the four-day working week.

Where do we go from here?

The priorities of the modern workforce are changing, and if businesses want to retain their staff, they need to adapt accordingly – after all, over a quarter (28%) of the workforce have left a job in the previous 12 months because the role did not offer enough flexibility. However, businesses should not automatically try to readjust their entire operation to offer shorter working weeks.

Managers and directors must begin by talking to their staff, to understand their specific needs. Only through open and honest conversations will employers be able to adjust their policies and structures in a way that benefits both their workforce and the organisation itself.

It seems inevitable that the working world will become more tailored to the workforce, and this is indeed a welcome change. We must ensure, however, that the proper controls and practices are put in place to make sure everyone benefits. What is vital to remember, however, is that this will never be a case of one size fits all. Assuming as much will be counterproductive to both businesses and their workforce.

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