27 February 2023

Is a Shorter Work Week the Future of Work?

Having a healthy work-life balance has been the subject of much discussion, both inside the workplace and in across various media outlets. The latest buzz, increasingly since the Covid-19 lockdown, has been around a potential shift to a four-day working week.

In recent years, four-day working week trials have taken place in Sweden, with no reduction in pay. The aim of the trials was to evaluate the impact of a shorter working week on productivity, work-life balance and overall job satisfaction. In a trial by a tech company in the city of Gothenburg, results showed that their employees experienced an improved work-life balance and reported higher job satisfaction – but the challenge, in some areas, was sustaining productivity. Another trial, in Stockholm, allowed employees to work six-hour days instead of eight-hour days, which led to reduced stress levels. Overall, the Swedish trials found that the results were mostly positive when it came to employee wellbeing, but that adjustments would be required to work processes and systems to maintain productivity levels.

In February 2022, Belgium passed a bill that allowed workers the right to opt to work four days instead of five – working the same hours, just condensed into a shorter period. The purpose of this was to help workers and companies enjoy more freedom. However, this hasn’t proved to be universally popular. Some workers found that they would have to work very longer hours each day in order to condense their overall workload into four days instead of five.

Recently, trials in the UK have taken place. One notable trial was at the accountancy firm PwC, where a specific group of employees worked a four-day work week for nine months while still receiving the same pay. Results revealed that employees experienced an improved work-life balance, better mental health and increased general job satisfaction. In contrast, some reported that the reduced face-to-face interaction was a negative.

Another UK based company, Perkbox found that their employees’ improved, as well as increased productivity along with a better work-life balance. These UK trials are still taking place and the full challenges and potential impact are yet to be discovered. Other countries who are trialling or have trialled the four-day work week include Spain, Iceland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand.

There are potential downsides to the four-day working week that should be considered by employers looking at implementation. Businesses may potentially have to pay their employees less if they work four days, and with the cost of living skyrocketing, is this something employees would really want? Another potential problem could be increased stress levels due to having to meet KPIs and deadlines with fewer days in the office. A reduction in face-to-face interaction is also inevitable. Less time for collaboration and brainstorming in in person means that teamwork and communication may be compromised.

Overall, the positives would be an improved work-life balance, increased job satisfaction, improved mental health and increased productivity. By working fewer hours, employees may be able to focus more effectively and complete tasks in less time. This could attract more skilled candidates to your business and also make retention of staff easier.

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