More businesses took a four-day week during the COVID-19 pandemic because the switch to remote work prompted a major rethink of work practices, according to a poll of senior leaders at 500 UK businesses at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School.
The survey, an update of research from 2019, showed that 21% of respondents took a four-day working week for all staff in 2021, up from 18% in 2019. The majority of respondents (65%) said it was a four-day working week . apply to at least some of their workers, up from 50% who said so in 2019. The report defines a four-day working week as a reduction of five to four working days on the same pay or compressed working week. the same. one hour over four days instead of five.
Although a A four-day work week became very popular, the numbers in the UK may be higher than expected; Posting site In fact said Computer world less than 1% of posts on March 11 included the term “four-day week,” for example. A Gallup survey of US full – time employees in March 2020 – before the pandemic – indicated that only 5% applied four days a week, with the majority (84%) working five days (and 11% working six days a week).
That said, many organizations have adopted or tried a shorter working week for staff from the start of the pandemic, including firms such as Atom Bank, Bolt, Buffer, and Kickstarter. And pilot projects are underway in a number of countries, including the US, UK and Spain.
Such projects are nothing new, of course; Microsoft has launched a trial in its Japan offices in 2019 which led to higher productivity, for example, and the UK’s Wellcome Trust went into issues of complexity with his own project the same year.
There has been talk of a shorter working week for many years, but a change from the five – day, 40 – hour week has failed to gain momentum for over a century.
What’s behind the recent interest in the idea? One reason is that the widespread, and largely successful, transition to remote work during the pandemic demonstrated the benefits of a more flexible approach to work, said Rita Fontinha, associate professor of Strategic Management. Human Resources at the University of Reading ‘s Henley Business School.
“The pandemic has led to a situation in which most businesses have been forced to implement remote work and this has intensified our previous discussions over the past two decades on flexible working,” said Fontinha. “Working from home has increased confidence [between employers and employees] and awareness of other ways to measure performance that go beyond the appearance. The pandemic has shown that flexibility works. ”
The report highlights the benefits of four days a week
The Henley Business School survey revealed a number of benefits for businesses that implemented a four-day work week, including cost savings (66%), improved productivity (64%), better quality output from staff (64%), and workers they were less stressed (78%).
Improved employee interest is also tied to business results, said Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at research firm J. Gold Associates.
“Keeping employees happy and motivated will make employees much more productive, no matter when they work,” Gold said. “Maximizing employee productivity is a much more important way of gaining business value than the hours worked.”
Another benefit noted by 68% of survey respondents who took a four-day week was hire and retention. “People were less likely to take sick leave, people were more productive, and it was easier to attract and retain new staff,” Fontinha said.
The so – called Great Rising it is likely to add to interest in a shorter working week as well.
“What is different now from the pandemic is that we have seen a temporary spike in the difficulty of firms hiring and retaining workers, and extending the four – day working week to help to alleviate the challenge. in the short term, ”said David Brodeur-Johnson, principal analyst at research firm Forrester.
A shorter working week can be challenging
The survey also highlighted a number of challenges associated with implementing a shorter working week, although employer anxiety decreased during the pandemic.
Among companies that did not offer a four-day week, 65% said they were concerned that staff costs would outweigh any productivity benefits (although that number was down from 80%). The biggest challenge cited by employers was meeting customer demands (75%), while 70% thought a shorter week would be too complicated to handle.
Some companies may find it easier to switch to a four – day week than others, Fontinha said. IT-oriented firms are more likely to switch, she said, primarily because of its relative ease with which the output of technology workers can be tracked compared to other roles. “We are less likely to see the four days a week than sectors where there is customer contact, or healthcare, for example,” she said.
A shorter working week is also more appropriate for companies with a relatively homogeneous workforce in terms of job roles, she said, which means that large firms with a diverse workforce may have a complex short working week to accommodate. force. At the same time, the smallest companies may not have the resources to support the transition, Fontinha said, adding that there are steps every business can take to implement a four – day week, even if they become more gradual.
“This overnight transition to a four-day work week will be difficult for smaller businesses,” she said. “What we are proposing is a progressive reduction in working hours, moving towards a four-day working week by assessing how well things are going and how needs are being met, how productive and are people. ”
Even if the benefits outweigh the costs for many, businesses should consider the reasons for their move to a four – day week. While a shorter week offers clear benefits to employees’ work / life balance and well-being, Brodeur-Johnson warns not to take a four-day week as a shortcut to enhance the employee experience. “[T]it is clear from science that what really motivates people is being able to progress in meaningful work every day; know that they can and do succeed, ”he said.
“The highlight of the employee experience is when we can leave work knowing that we have made a difference, and that we have had a great day,” he said. work we do.
“All of these things make it much harder for businesses to do for their people, as it involves behavioral changes, management development, cultural changes, deeper resources and more that a four-day working week alone will not solve.”
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Demand for a four – day working week increased during the pandemic – a survey
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