In earlier times, employees were lucky to get one day off work each week – usually Sunday in Western cultures. Then a great stride forward was taken and most employees got half of Saturday off as well. Then all of Saturday.
Of course, those particular days of the week don’t apply to many sectors such as retail and many other industries where the hours that a company is in operation have expanded to either serve their customers better or to make more effective use of the massive investment in fixed costs which, if left idle, is totally unproductive. So, the actual hours that an enterprise is “open” doesn’t particularly align with the hours that a specific employee actually works.
There is a trend towards organizations having an increasing reliance on part-time workers and “gig” contract workers whose hours are very flexible. Yet, full-time employees are still the core of most organizations. The recent standard for such full-time employment has been the five-day week with hours ranging from 35 to 40 hours. Is it time to consider re-evaluating that standard practice?
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about the effectiveness of a four-day workweek. In November, 2019, Microsoft Japan announced that they piloted a four-day workweek and saw a 40% boost in productivity.
In the same article, they stated that they also benefitted from lower electricity bills and saved costs from employees printing fewer pages by taking five Fridays off in August.
The four-day workweek also meant that employees worked more effectively, cutting meetings from 60 minutes down to 30 minutes, and finding alternative ways of communicating that were more efficient. For example, Microsoft Japan urged employees to use alternative means to collaborate if possible, such as connecting via instant messenger or a phone call rather than meeting in person or spending time writing long emails.
The success of this pilot has resulted in corporations and employees talking about the four-day workweek. Some employees love it, thinking that they would appreciate a three-day weekend and more efficient workdays, while others think that it just squeezes more work into a shorter amount of time. Some employers are open to change that saves on costs and improves morale, as long as it doesn’t reduce overall output and efficiency.
Regardless of whether or not a four-day workweek is the right or wrong thing for companies to do, the conversation is happening, and it is worth exploring.
Possible Benefits of a Four-Day Workweek
Better Work Life Balance = A Happier Workforce
A happier workforce may be more productive, less likely to leave your company, and may be more efficient in their jobs. It is important that your employees like coming to work and having improved work life balance is one of the keys to that.
Innovative Ways of Working May Attract Top Talent
Companies are getting more and more competitive in trying to win over millennials and top talent. A four-day workweek is a rare perk these days and would show that you are ahead of the game when it comes to building a progressive workforce. Implementing a four-day workweek might just be the thing that wins over a key employee or the millennial talent that you need to move your organization forward.
You may save money if your operation can benefit from some part of it being closed for an additional day and implementing things that ensure your teams are working more effectively. A shorter week may mean that everyone is motivated to get their work done in a shorter amount of time with the benefit of having that extra day off per week to motivate them to work smarter, not harder.
The overhead of running an office is a significant expense that most organizations face, which is why start-ups are often now choosing to be totally virtual. The benefit of reducing office overhead is one that will help your company’s bottom line immediately.
Things to Consider Before Starting a Four-Day Workweek Pilot
The Four-Day Workweek May Not Work for All Teams or Organizations
The four-day workweek might seem great in theory, but it will only work for teams that can function under flexible arrangements. A call centre operation, for example, would have to continue to staff the operation on a longer schedule but individual employees could, and many already are, be governed by a four-day week or some other arrangement. Companies need to consider the impact on their customers of a different workweek for some employees, and also the need to get maximum benefit from the investment in fixed costs such as manufacturing operations and real estate (rented and owned).
Customers are increasingly demanding in wanting access to organizations at a time that is convenient for them and, to stay competitive, companies need to be responsive to that. In addition, in a hyper-competitive world, every expense and asset must generate the maximum return on investment possible and letting such investment lie idle is not an option.
Before launching a four-day workweek, it is important to understand these issues and how they will be managed.
In Order to Measure Success, You Need to Have Measurements in Place
Before piloting a four-day workweek, you need to have key performance indicators and measurements in place. Once you have identified a department or team to trial a four-day workweek on, you will want to make sure you incorporate things such as pre and post employee satisfaction surveys, and highlight other areas that you want to measure. As mentioned above, Microsoft Japan measured cost-savings on electricity and printing.
Costs related to physically having an office open are easy ones to measure, but you will also want to be measuring employee sentiment as well.
Figure Out the Logistics
There are also standards that need to be in place before launching a four-day workweek. Microsoft, for example, set out to shorten meetings, encourage alternative communication, and some companies may choose to lengthen the hours worked on those four working days to make up for the time lost on the day off.
You will want to have a committee in place before you launch a pilot to identify areas where changes in the way work is done can make the transition to a four-day week more seamless. If employees’ schedules are overlapping, changes may need to be made to ensure that efficient communication continues.
Is the Four-Day Workweek Right for Your Company?
Companies all around the world are moving towards flexible hours, remote working options, contract workers, part-time workers and other ways of getting work done. A four-day workweek is yet another tactic aimed at creating a more efficient and satisfied workforce. Whether or not it is right for your company is something only you and your leadership team can decide.
As a starting point, you can pilot a four-day workweek with one team or department and test it in different areas as you learn and adapt your model. There does not have to be a massive company roll out at the outset.
Just as the six-day workweek gave way to the five-and-a-half-day workweek a century ago, changes to the way that employees and organizations do business will continue to evolve.
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