The five day work week began in 1940 when the push by labor movements for more humane working conditions created the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. With all the technological advancements in society and the workplace since 1940 and the pandemic driven realization that successful remote work is possible, isn’t it time to consider a four day work week?
Why Reduce the Work Week?
The primary purpose of introducing a reduced work week is to improve employee well-being. A Gallup survey found 2/3 of full-time employees experienced job burnout with 23% feeling it often or always. These employees were more likely to take a sick day, 50% as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with their manager, 23% more likely to visit the emergency room and 260% more likely to leave their current employer.
A reduced work week increases an employee’s mental well-being and physical health through the opportunity for increased physical activity, increased opportunity for more education and increased volunteering. Forced downtime proved to be beneficial to the hours that were worked. According to the American Institute of Stress, 66% of stress comes from managing a work/life balance and an overwhelming workload.
Does Productivity Suffer?
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time you allot for it. Is the inverse true? Would we work more efficiently simply by allowing ourselves less time? The CEO of Perpetual Guardian, Andrew Barnes, implemented the four day work week in 2018 and found, “The prioritization of productivity and the secondary outcome of improved work-life balance come with the unique 100-80-100 equation of the four day work week: We give 100% compensation for 80% time at work on the condition that 100% of agreed productivity is achieved.” How is this achieved?
Trimming the fat to create denser, more rich work days was the solution. There were fewer breaks taken, workers spent 35% less time on non-work websites and they spent less time on personal obligations because they had an extra day of free time to do personal needs in. Innovations were introduced to manage “wasted” time. Meetings were capped at 30 minutes and held to it through the use of virtual tools. Meeting virtually also limited chit-chat and working remotely allowed commuting time to be used for work-time. Collaborative cloud-based tools increased the effectiveness of working remotely. Workplaces that introduced the four day work week, from companies in Iceland to the State of Utah, found productivity remained the same or improved.
40 or 32 Hours in a Work Week?
A Harris Poll found that 83% of American workers would be in favor of a four day work week, and 87% would work longer hours daily to get a four day work week. Fifty-nine percent don’t want a reduced work week if it meant a smaller paycheck. Interestingly it was found that asking for 40 hours in four days was less effective, less productive than 32 hours in four days. Employees viewed their first hour of a ten hour day as a wake-up hour and spent the time having coffee, talking with associates and surfing the web. They spent the last two hours worrying about food needs and spending more time on the internet.
Of course, a business going from 40 hours a week to 32 needs to see a 20% increase in productivity to make up for the work time lost even with the benefits to staff morale. There could also be issues with unavailability on the previously known work day. The State of Utah had to drop its four day work week program, despite having seen productivity increases, improved employee satisfaction and morale boosts, because customers were annoyed at not being able to access services on Fridays.
Innovative changes to American’s work week have been accelerated by the pandemic. Is your business experimenting with these different options? The Executive Recruiters at Smith Hanley Associates are ready to help you fill any hiring needs you have due to pandemic or work week changes.