By Michael Cupps, Senior Vice President Marketing, at ActiveOps
June 2022 saw the launch of the four-day working week pilot in the UK, in which 3,000 workers from 70 different companies have committed to the same productivity of a five-day working week, with no salary cut. The pilot is running for six months, with companies large and small trialling the new way of working, which is expected to generate positive results. It could redefine the future of work as we know it.
Organised by 4 Day Week Global, the trial has been created in partnership with the thinktank, Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College. This isn’t the first time a country’s workforce has trialled a reduce working week. From 2015-2019, there were two large-scale trials of a reduced week in Iceland. Analysis of workers who went from 40 hour weeks to 35 hour weeks showed it to be an “overwhelming success”, while other countries such as Spain and New Zealand are encouraging businesses to follow suit.
The UK pilot aims to profoundly consider the quality of life for workers across many industries. Since the pandemic, employees have seen a rush to embrace the hybrid/remote working life they have yearned for. The proposed four-day working week could be a radical turning point in how we work. Staff working any given week of only four days could reduce sickness absences for businesses and, in turn, lessen the headache for managers finding cover. It could also potentially improve morale and thus enhance the quality of work produced.
But would simply squeezing five days of work into four days cancel employee burnout, or have no tangible impact – or could it even make things worse? With managers armed with the right data on how their workers use their time to produce their work, the right decisions could be made for the better. However, the four-day week will not serve every industry and worker.
Many businesses that rely on staff working shift patterns will not be able to benefit from the proposed shift, meaning it could increase the imbalance across sectors. Time will tell as the trial rolls on whether businesses such as fish and chip shops and banks, which are taking part, will be positively or negatively impacted by the four-day week. Where a four-day working week is possible, it needs to be one of many elements that managers implement to ensure that the right choices are made based on the accurate measurement of output rather than employee input. The four-day week will solve some issues but not all.
The pandemic had already forced a notable change in how operations managers understood their workforce and workload and planned their operations around staff absences and workflow fluctuations. Yet, remote teams ended up being a nonentity, with managers wondering how to calculate productivity accurately. Many businesses have since embraced the hybrid model, but does the four-day week now throw confusion into the mix for team leaders?
Some businesses have already adapted to these changes in their working patterns, enabling them to seek a more precise understanding of productivity and overall performance and accessing better ways of managing workforces working from home.
Output-focused working gives businesses an edge over the competition and promotes employee wellbeing and staff retention. Boosting productivity and operational efficiency can be reached quickly when managers are not preoccupied with the challenges thrown up by poor workforce management, such as juggling employee retention issues.
Yet the benefits of the four-day working week are not just for managers and team leaders. For the employee, the results from the current six-month trial are expected to see significant reductions in employee burnout, sick days, and potentially increased employee retention. For the employer, happier staff means better productivity which in turn means economic growth. Yet, the pilot has not seen the overwhelming welcome expected from some sectors, with many questioning the coordination of implementing a new working week.
Some are concerned that the trial should focus on areas of industry where those are working in more manual jobs first. Those close to the minimum wage would miss out on benefits such as better wages, longer holidays, and an extra day to rest or be productive.
As hybrid working becomes the norm, many managers are starting to ask: where are my people most productive? Being able to work from home is the preferred option for many employees, but not all of them – and not all types of work lend themselves to remote working. But moving to a four-day week has demonstrated that it is not about how many hours you put in – it is about focusing on outputs.
Even in a hybrid work environment, the unpredictable nature of the world and people’s lives means that organisations will need workforce management methods and tools that are flexible and intelligent to make the transition a success.
Yet where companies can offer flexibility in their operations, implementing the four-day week, managers have already seen an uplift in productivity. Some organisations where flexibility can be added have seen staff rotas still cover five day shifts to ensure cover is kept at normal levels where staff work their four days from Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday.
With some companies already embracing the four-day working week, many have seen an increase in productivity and profits using workforce intelligence to measure and track the performance of the business. This data includes understanding the demand side of work. What (how much and what kind?), when (expected due dates or SLAs) and who (staff availability and skills). With this data in hand, workforce capacity planning makes the four-day work week a reality by informing managers how to make the right decisions to align these variables, without asking staff to work overtime.
This workforce optimisation allows team leaders to make accurate decisions on adjusting work-life balance in favour of the employees while allowing leisure time to become a part of the working week. Managers will have the capability of understanding the coordination behind hybrid working amongst team members and where better working environments for staff can be implemented to ensure that productivity and profitability are not compromised.