Four Day Working Week - the future of employment?

What does it mean to be productive?

What it means to be a productive employee has changed drastically over the years. Modern life is stressful. Individuals find it increasingly difficult to maintain a good work-life balance as there’s more and more pressure to deliver results. More and more workers feel obligated to take their work home with them.

It used to be the case that when you finished work, you could go home and switch off from employee obligations. However, workers now have near constant contact to work through their phones. Group chats, email and social media mean that workers are sometimes expected to be productive and engage in work after they have left the office.

When sleep is the only real break from work, a lack of sleep becomes a vicious cycle, impacting worker productivity and happiness. Jonathon Crary claims that sleep is the last affront to neoliberalism, getting good sleep is, therefore, a political statement. He also argues that technology removes the traditional way people experience time, which reflects the around-the-clock approach people take towards technology. 1 in 3 people wake up in the night and choose to go on their phones, often checking work emails. The screen emits blue light, disrupting the circadian rhythm, which causes sleep deprivation. Does less sleep really mean there’s more time to work, though? Does someone who works every moment possible really make a productive worker?

Poor staff well-being is damaging your productivity.

With increasing work pressures, employers have seen a rise in absence due to work-related stress and mental health, which now constitutes over 50% of employee absence. It seems evident that a lack of worker well-being is damaging business and the economy, but what can we do to solve the issue?  

What if the hours’ employees put into working and maintaining productivity actually makes workers less productive? UK Employees work four weeks more than German workers each year but are on average less productive, with 34% feeling more stressed than they did two years ago.

What if there’s a way to give your employees a better work-life balance and make them more productive at the same time? It’s a win-win for everyone.

The idea of a four-day working week has been around for a while now, but it has taken time to gain credibility, people are used to the traditional five-day week popularised by Henry Ford and are can be reluctant to make a significant change. However, we’re now seeing the idea being taken up by some political parties and talked about on the news which is making people consider whether a move to a four day working week is a feasible solution to the pressures of modern life. 

But how can less time spent at work equate to higher productivity? The idea is that the stress and poor work-life balance associated with a five-day working week stifles employee productivity.

Where’s the evidence?

A few studies have been piloted and consistently found a correlation between an extra day off (and maintaining pay), and higher levels of productivity. The biggest study, of 240 staff, recently took place in a financial centre in New Zealand. Its results showed a 20% increase in productivity and an increase in profits and staff well-being.

In 2019, Microsoft also conducted a four day working week experiment in Japan. Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world and has serious problems with burnout culture, so much so that there has been evidence to suggest that there are serious health implications that can even lead to death. The Microsoft study found that workers were both happier and productivity jumped by 40%, with 92% of employees claiming they preferred the four day week to their usual 5 days.

Before the financial crash, working hours had been steadily decreasing. However, following the crash, hours began to rise again, with the added difficulty of a pay-squeeze, meaning people are working more without the pay to show for it. A four day week could tackle this, all while improving the bottom line. If it was adopted on a mass scale, our economy could be in better shape and employee’s stress levels would be reduced, making better workers.      

What if it doesn’t work?

Unsurprisingly, the idea of working just four days each week instead of five generates a lot of buzz. Despite the sense of excitement surrounding the proposal, it doesn’t come without potential problems. When France switched to a 35-hour working week, many reported that whilst at work, there was additional pressure to get work done quickly. There’s also the question of how much the research reflects what the reality would be. Studies have shown workers become more productive when being observed, a phenomenon known as The Hawthorne Effect. Therefore the productivity increase seen in the research may be unsustainable if the practice was rolled out and was no longer seen as experimental.  

There are other ways to implement the structure less radically. Companies that support remote work have a 25% lower staff turnover. This doesn’t solve the issue of pressures to work outside of the office, but it does allow employees to take a break from stressful commutes. The Royal Society for Public Health published a report arguing that commuting can negatively impact both physical and mental health. Allowing for a more flexible approach to remote work should also increase your employee’s well-being.

Whatever stance you take on the four-day working week, one thing is indisputable; happier workers are more productive workers. Ensuring your staff well-being is placed at the forefront of your business values is an essential part of being productive, having excellent staff retention and standing out as a competitive employer.  

You might not realise you have a problem with staff well-being or staff turnover. Try our employee turnover cost calculator to see how much your staff turnover is costing you.

KUB has extensive experience in helping businesses grow. If you’re interested in improving your productivity and getting the best out of your workers, get in touch by calling 0345 053 7417 or email [email protected]