Let’s be honest, don’t we ALL look forward to holiday weekends when the day off falls on either side of the weekends or our typical days off? And yet, the work gets done. Upon economic recovery from COVID-19, working less hours overall may not be a good long term strategy, but it raises a question about our motivation and ability to focus when a carrot, (an extra day off?), is dangled in front of us. For industries where it is feasible and safety isn’t compromised, perhaps a compacted work week might be a real competitive edge:
Tori began working remotely for the first time when a COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate went into effect in her area. Though she hated to admit it, instead of feeling relieved she was disappointed when she received news that she was now able to head back to the office.
She’d enjoyed the flexibility that working from home afforded her; she enjoyed not having to commute and found she was able to work longer days without the need to worry about beating traffic. Many times, business was so slow on Fridays that she was able to complete what she needed to do by putting in a few extra hours on Thursday.
She asked herself: How can I enjoy similar flexibility after I return to the office?
The pandemic turned the working world a bit on its head for many industries. Schedules shifted, commutes lessened (or disappeared), meetings were held via Zoom or Teams, and in terms of the work being done, it may have been business as usual for some industries. Some businesses also discovered the cost savings of not having to power, equip and staff offices nearly as often.
As restrictions ease and workers head back to an office, are there lessons to be learned from the changes that were implemented, successfully, in many companies? Flexibility, which may not have been foremost on company leaders’ minds prior to shelter-in-place orders, may now be something to be considered and explored.
If a job is no longer tied to a strict eight hours per day/five days-a-week schedule and the work still gets done, what changes could be reasonably considered?
Enter the four-day work week.
The four-day work week (or “compressed work week”), has already been in use by various companies and industries in different countries for years, and has met with varying levels of success. The concept is to shorten the week into longer workdays in fewer days per week. The most common example has been four, 10-hour days.
In 2019, the Japanese subsidiary of Microsoft went to a four-day week and found that it improved worker productivity by 40%. Andrew Barnes took his New Zealand-based company Perpetual Guardian to a four-day week and it was so successful ended up co-authoring a book about it, as well as founding a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising global awareness of the work-ability of the four-day week.
According to a SHRM survey, currently one-third of employers in the U.S. offer compressed work weeks, and it is predicted by the organization that this number will grow, though the U.S. in general has been slow to move away from the century-old traditional work week. A Harris Poll Survey from spring 2020 showed that 82 percent of employed Americans say they would be “somewhat” or “very willing” to work longer hours in a period of four days and 71 percent of those workers believe it will make them more productive. It also is seen as a necessity by some workers in this modern era. According to a 2019 Deloitte survey, 22 percent of millennials, one of the largest groups of employees in the market today, stated that they plan to leave their current jobs due a lack of work/life balance.
An extra day off per week that doesn’t eat into their vacation and PTO may allow employees time to:
- Spend with family and friends
- Pursue hobbies/interests
- Volunteer at a child’s school or other organizations
- Further their personal education with a class or seminar
- Run errands
- Simply refresh, recharge, and reorganize
But what about coverage considerations? Clients who may call or orders that need to be filled on that day off? A business need not shut down completely on a four-day week; a rotating schedule of days off could allow employees to still cover client and work demands and get the extra personal time that could help avoid burnout and reduce daily stress. Returning from work post-COVID-19, compressed weeks may also help to reduce crowds in the workplace. Individual performance goals will still need to be met, and productivity needs to be measured to ensure the company stays on track.
So what should we be aware of?
- One-size may not fit all: Just as all jobs are not suited for work-from-home, alternative workweeks may not fit the bill in some industries (see below.) Some employees also simply may not want to work 10-hour days due to personal schedule needs. Employee pulse surveys should be taken prior to considering and implementing such a change over a whole company as a unit. Longer shifts may also not bode well in safety sensitive positions.
- State law compliance: states that require daily overtime, such as California, may have additional formal administrative steps to follow to ensure that a switch to an alternative workweek (one other than a traditional 40 hour/five day week), is done properly and does not run companies afoul of wage and hour laws.
- Equal availability: there is a recognized gap in the flexibility that has been typically allowed for office or tech positions versus those front-line or in other traditionally blue-collar roles. No positions should be overlooked as any worker, no matter the job, can experience stress and burnout. The possibility of disparate impact will need to be explored if companies are considering putting only part of their business function on a shorter schedule.
- Addressing issues: Growing pains are a natural part of any new schedule. Productivity may temporarily dip, time clocks may have hiccups, or some employees may not adapt well to the new situation. Address any issues immediately so they don’t start a downhill slide.
While not a NEW concept, a four-day work week is one that has not always been considered or explored in the past. The time for its renewed consideration has perhaps arrived, as many companies that have had to flex and adapt over the past few months found that even when moving away from a traditional work environment, work was still able get done, and done well.
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