As the election approaches and policies are scrutinised from both sides, one labour proposal has been questioned more thoroughly than most. Promising to bring an average 32-hour week to the country within 10 years, the public are questioning whether it is truly realistic and will, as proposed, pay for itself through productivity.
Just as a 4-day week might sound radical to the general public now, the 5-day week had similar pushback in 1926, when Henry Ford spurred the movement by introducing his employees to less hours. It is this we need to remember when analysing this policy; the 2-day weekend, 5-day week isn’t a natural configuration of time, it is something we as a people created, meaning it CAN be changed. Almost 100 years since Ford took a chance, are we really ready to disrupt the status quo?
Even without a policy forcing this change, new companies are trialling the 4-day week every day. In the UK, Normally, Pursuit Marketing and Simply Business have all switched their working hours, each reporting increases in team engagement. Normally write that “working 4 days is making us happier, healthier, and more productive. We genuinely believe that having this balance improves the quality of our work”. Large companies such as Microsoft and Shake Shack have also been experimenting with the 4-day week in an effort to help employees achieve a better work-life balance. This aspiration is often the reason employers are looking to reduce hours, as although we’re scheduled for five days currently, with the increase in technology, many of us are working round the clock.
These heavy workloads are, in the long run, are actually costing businesses time and valuable talent, as shown in a 2017-18 study where 44% of sick days were due to workload pressure. A Gallup study similarly found that 23% of us feel burned out always or very often. Cutting hours could then mean our people are able to function at a higher level AND take care of their own health.
Microsoft confirmed these suspicions when they cut every Friday from the schedule at a subsidiary in Japan this August and found that there was a 40% boost in productivity. However, there are concerns, raised by Time Management Expert, Laura Vanderkam, that although this could be beneficial in the short-term, it could also damage long-term progression, as “people do the immediate stuff of their job that needs to get done, but then you wind up short-changing the longer career development stuff”.
As always, we believe this is down to a trust in your people. Companies that are implementing the 4-day week in an effective way are those who are allowing flexibility within their roles. Perpetual Guardian, who implemented a 30-hour week at an opt in basis and still pay employees their standard wage, saw team engagement increase significantly over their trial period. Wild Bit have adjusted their scheme to suit certain teams and times of year, with summer hours differing from winter and some having Mondays off whilst others get Fridays. It’s these attitudes which we believe will ensure the workplace runs smoothly and we should probably all begin to consider the idea, as even if Labour fail to win the election, it seems change is coming, with 15% of US companies saying they already offer a 4-day week, with no decrease in revenue or productivity (Society for Human Resource Management Survey April 2019).