Four Or Five Days A Week?
- by XpatAthens
- Tuesday, 04 February 2020
Following a slew of notable recent examples (Microsoft), the concept of the four-day work week is undergoing something of a renaissance around the world. And following some notable non-examples (Hewlett-Packard), the idea of a shorter working week is a hot topic right now. As far as employees go, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who didn’t support it: fewer hours in the office and on the road getting there and back, and the prospect of three days off every single working week of the year are sure-fire vote-winners. But for HR directors, it’s less clear-cut – so what are the pros and cons of the four-day work week, and what’s the best way to address it in an increasingly flexible age?
It was Microsoft Japan who put the benefits of a shorter working week on the international agenda when it introduced Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019 last August. Not only were employees happier – they were a staggering 40% more productive too. “Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot,” said president and CEO Takuya Hirano. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time.” Not only did they surpass that goal but the environment also benefitted: electricity use decreased 23% and printing went down by 59% too. Unsurprisingly, 92% of staff agreed the experiment had been a success.
Finland’s new prime minister shares that view. Elected last year aged 34, Sanna Marin become the world’s youngest premier and an exemplar of the millennial mindset when she advocated not only a four-day working week but also a six-hour working day. Perhaps she’s been reading the research published by the Harvard Business Review, which supports her thinking and explains how the traditional eight-hour working day no longer makes sense. According to Adam Grant, the organisational psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, “the more complex and creative jobs are, the less it makes sense to pay attention to hours at all.”
Despite all this, not everyone agrees – especially for a business at a pivotal time. Former HP boss Meg Whitman was a firm believer of being physically present: “When you're in a turnaround, making decisions in real time, conference calls don't work,” she said. “Digital tools are great, but having a conversation face-to-face is a faster means to an end.” She has a point: when the tech isn’t up to scratch, and meetings are missed while itinerant employees fiddle with their Zoom accounts and internet connections, productivity suffers alongside job satisfaction.
That said, the world of work is moving to a more flexible mindset and there’s probably not a lot anyone can do about it – other than concentrating on implementing flexible working in a way that benefits both company and employee. And that means ensuring the infrastructure is in place to create a working culture that places an emphasis on people and productivity. According to a research by IWG, 91% of those surveyed thought that flexible working “helps them to grow their business and maximise profits”, and it’s not hard to see how coworking can help.
It’s true that some CEOs worry what their employees get up to without supervision, and the feeling that you’re paying for someone to do their laundry at home can grate. But HR directors can point to research for reassurance, which shows time and again that employees left to their own devices are more productive: “Remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year,” according to a recent report in Business News Daily. Whatever your business decides, it pays to be prepared.