Is a Four-Day Week a Realistic Proposition?

Claire Vane
March 23, 2022

Could we really work fewer days per week and be just as productive? Is a four-day week a realistic proposition? In short, the answer is yes. I believe that it is possible and productive to move to a four-day week, provided we make certain adjustments.

Current press articles indicate that companies who have already pushed for a four-day week have seen an increase in profits. There are many positive spin-offs; that is to say, producing the same amount of output in four days as has previously been done in five. There is no point in reducing productivity by 20%; the key is to keep productivity at the five-day per week level, whilst working four days. This points to the fact that we need to be more efficient. As only about 20% of our time spent in the office is actually productive, we need to look at the impact of everything we are doing.

Positive aspects of the four-day week include improved sickness absence, as well as better retention. People also focus on their wellbeing and their objectives, AND productivity in the time they are working, increases. As now, when there is a war on talent at all levels and in all sectors, retention is vital as is the attraction of a four-day week in recruitment.

Employees report that they feel more relaxed after working only four days. After the pandemic, this is good news. Additionally, if retention improves, then recruitment costs inevitably go down.

I can remember, in the early 80s, having long meetings with shop stewards and management to discuss the implementation of the 37.5-hour week.  There were great debates about tea-breaks in the morning and afternoon and whether these should be abolished, and what working agreements would be implemented on manufacturing plants. Where shift systems were in operation, reduction of hours brought all sorts of challenges with regard to rest days and accrued time.  Most people don’t work shifts, but it is not difficult to remove the inefficiencies that tiredness, lack of focus and lack of work/life balance bring to the workplace over the traditional five-day week.

We may worry about whether profit may be maintained by reducing to a four-day week, on the basis that productivity decreases, but early findings indicate a 20% increase in productivity and no reduced output, but instead, reduced stress levels and increased engagement.

One services company in New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian, switched to a four-day week last November and maintained pay. Data indicates that there has been no drop in output, with higher scores on staff commitment in relation to areas such as leadership stimulation, empowerment and commitment.

The pandemic, though dreadful in many ways, has opened our eyes to the opportunities of remote working in some, but not all, cases.  One’s experience of the pandemic is very much dependent on one’s own circumstances and, for those with young children, perhaps living in a flat with no garden, the stress has been enormous.

If we are going to go to a four-day week, we are forced to look at opportunities to remove duplication, inefficiencies and downtime that have become more apparent by our ability to work at home.  One of the downsides of working from home is that one doesn’t have the respite of going to the kitchen and putting on the kettle whilst having a chat with colleagues, having a few words of conversation in the corridor or in someone else’s office when one is feeling slightly off-colour.

Human-beings tend to procrastinate over the difficult things and often over the strategic things, so that we tend to be reactive on ‘bad’ days and try to look productive when real productivity lies in strategic thinking and stepping out of one’s mental comfort zones.

A reduction in working hours could reduce inefficiencies, without reducing productivity, provided that we put in place excellent performance management systems and appropriate reward mechanisms.   We need to be sure that we reward the behaviour we want, with clearly defined competency frameworks that cover, not just measurable and quantifiable targets, but also desired behaviours (soft competencies), and that communications are honed so that time is not wasted through misinterpretation and poor communications.

Having seen my own adult children move from one post to another and the levels of induction that have been implemented in different environments, I can see how effective it would be to take a day out per week so that we can think and take a breath. As stress levels reduce, individuals then give a more effective input (and therefore output) over the four days. I note in my coaching work that there is always room for efficiency improvement, and this is more likely to take place over a four-day week without reducing productivity.

If you’d like to discuss how efficiencies can be brought to the work-place, whilst at the same time increase staff engagement and successfully reduce the working week to four days, please do get in touch.

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