The feasibility of the four day week

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The idea of a four day working week has been a large talking point for months, following high profile studies and trials.

From companies around the world expressing the benefits for employee wellbeing and improved work/life balance.

The most prolific of these was a New Zealand company who, following a successful trial, are officially implementing a four day working week, without any changes to pay for employees.  A company in Wales has also introduced a four day week, whilst still paying employees for five, under the premise that their people can be just as productive working less hours.

With calls from the TUC discussing the need to introduce the four day week as a national standard, there has been little information investigating the processes needed to consider introducing this. Some businesses with skills shortages have chosen to implement this structure, including The Devonshire Arms Hotel in North Yorkshire and Sat Bains restaurant in Nottingham, to help recruit chefs. Hand Picked Hotels have also started a trial of a four day working week to help with their chef recruitment drive.

According to a recent survey, only 6% continue to work the traditional 9-5 workday. Just under half of the respondents stated they have the option to work flexibly.

With this in mind, MHR’s Stuart Price offers advice on the actual feasibility of introducing a four day week, looking across multiple industries, and the ways organisations would need to change to make it happen.

The power of rostering

For larger organisations, changing your workforce management processes to offer employees a four day week does not have to affect your business’ availability to its customers. With more than one person covering the responsibilities of a particular role, you could use rostering to stagger working hours so that individual employees can work four days, whilst the organisation continues to run on five. By using rosters, you can ensure your employees cover the hours between them without affecting customer accessibility. This means that even 24 hour services such as the NHS can offer employees more flexibility to help them balance their personal and professional lives more effectively.

This is harder for smaller businesses who may not have the employee numbers to stagger hours throughout the week and rely on individuals to carry out specific job roles. These companies may have no choice but to limit opening times to reduce worker hours, which is likely to cause significantly higher levels of resistance to change.

A reduction in hours is a key concern for organisations who worry it will upset customers and lead to lost business opportunities. However, whilst the ‘always available’, instant response expectation technology has created is still a key focus, research has found that as long as opening hours are well communicated, and the customer experience is great, it doesn’t matter if a response takes an extra 12 hours to come through. It’s all about managing expectations.

Change your business productivity mindset

Hesitation around implementing a four day week is often focused on the measurement of productivity. Most businesses immediately rule out the idea of reducing the working week as they focus on the loss in hours of working time. However, if businesses start measuring productivity based on output, rather than the hours put in, companies can analyse how long employees are productive when in the office, and predict what effect a reduction in hours might have.

Studies have shown that many workers are only productive for 3 hours a day, the rest is wasted in meetings, admin and procrastination. Using technology to automate admin tasks would reduce the time needed to complete them; this time could be given back to employees by reducing their time at work. Business output would not be affected, and so there is no business case to reducing pay along with the hours as would normally happen under a flexible agreement.

Offering a greater work/life balance through a four day week may even improve productivity, as it has been shown that happier employees are more motivated, producing more work in a shorter time. By measuring output not hours, organisations can improve employee morale and business productivity with a more open approach to working.

Flexible working

Measuring output not hours can provide evidence for more flexible working within your organisation. Businesses can get the best performance out of their people by allowing them  to work in the best style and format that suits them.

If you don’t think a four day week is possible for your organisation, or at least not right away, there are alternatives to ensure you are offering flexibility to benefit your employees’ wellbeing and motivation. Some people are more creative first thing in the morning, and others prefer to work late into the evening. By allowing more flexible working, your organisation can benefit from these increased moments of productivity by letting people work within their best environment – and helping them to avoid rush hour. They might even work a little longer if it means less time sat in a traffic jam.

Perhaps your employees could work one of their five days at home, providing better control of when they work. It’s not quite a full day off but it is one day less in the office, with a shorter overall day without the commuting time. This can provide benefits without such a drastic change to business structure. Working from home would help employees who prefer to work earlier, and finish earlier, or vice versa, as well as those who need a quiet space to concentrate.

Alternatively, you could offer employees the chance to compress their hours, working extra time during the four days they are in, in order to spend the extra day at home. This ensures the same level of hours are covered, and the work that goes with them, whilst still offering employees that extra day to do their own thing. This would benefit anyone who has personal commitments they need to balance around their professional ones.

In order to make a success of flexible working for your organisation, time and attendance processes will need to work seamlessly to ensure employees’ contracted hours are registered correctly, to avoid penalising your people for their new freedom. Technology can provide huge benefits with this by making time recording simpler, and giving immediate output to employers such as time worked and overall balances – ensuring you can keep track.

Support your employees and they’ll support you

Sometimes a project comes up that requires an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. It is these moments that make organisations reluctant to change from traditional hours – if everyone is in, unexpected work can be dealt with immediately. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

If you put trust in your people, providing flexibility and respect of their personal lives, you will have motivated employees who feel appreciated by their organisation. They’ll be willing to work a few extra hours or come in for an extra day to meet those deadlines when needed – after all trust is a two way street.

Strong communication, and regular check-ins will ensure that managers and their teams can build trust. With regular conversation, employees and managers can stay focused on the same objectives, and keep projects moving forward. This will help to make sure that, when the time arises, employees will be motivated to help the team when an urgent project comes in.

The whole point of flexible working is to offer more variety to employees, and done correctly, they’ll be willing to put in the extra time to support their organisation.

Changing with the world of work

Employers and businesses are focused on the typical 9-5, or slight variations of this format, as the main way of working because this has been the norm for 100+ years. However, this doesn’t mean it is the best method. With the development of technology and automation, there are new ways of working that will change the typical 9-5 regime as processes evolve and expectations change.

During the industrial revolution, people thought 12 hours a day was perfectly acceptable, yet people baulk at that idea now. How long will it be before workers demand something different?

The four day week may not be the optimum solution for employee wellbeing, but flexible working is crucial to ensure employees can balance their personal and professional lives for better productivity and happier workplaces. For organisations to retain their talent, now is the time to look at their processes, see where automation and streamlining of workflows can be improved, and start looking at ways to help your workforce reach its best potential.inning partnership to its customers and employees.