Recent headlines have shown that New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is urging employers to consider a four-day workweek to help rebuild the Post-COVID-19 economy as well as provide a better work-life balance for employees. In 2018, The Guardian reported that there were ‘no downsides‘ to New Zealand’s initial trial of a four-day workweek, with the change creating more productive and happier employees. So, is a four-day workweek the answer to a Post-COVID-19 economy? Let us know in the comments what you think!
The pandemic has changed many people’s outlook on life. With lives changed practically overnight, many people took stock of what was most important to them. With social engagements, weddings, birthday parties, and even the Friday night pub crawl gone, people have had time to focus on their families. Whilst some people worked from home, business as usual-ish, others found they had more time to do the hobbies they love (even if, unfortunately, they had less money) or discover new ways to fill the time. (Tiger King, anyone?)
Rethink working from home
For many companies, they may have allowed the odd day working from home, but felt the need to have everyone in the office most of the time. Even many processes were still stuck on paper, doing things the ‘old-fashioned’ way. With a global pandemic and those that could work from home told to do so, many businesses have adapted quickly to the change. They have also discovered that employees have been more productive from home firsthand, even if this 2-year Stanford study confirmed those results a couple of years ago.
In the Stanford study, people were not only more productive but they overall saved the company money on things like office space and time lost in being late to work, for example. This Inc. article notes, ‘the robust, nearly two-year study showed an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to a full day’s work.’ So, in other words, those who worked from home could do an extra day’s work at that time, which is even further proof that a four-day workweek could be productive for companies and much cheaper even if they are still paying full salaries for fewer hours.
Rotational days off for employees who need to be on-site
But how does the four-day workweek work for those who have to be on-site? For people in customer-facing in-person sectors, a four-day workweek could be managed with rotational days. For example, one week an employee would have a Monday off (as their third day off), the next week it would be a Tuesday, the next week a Wednesday, and so on. You’d work that on your schedule for every employee so that your office is staffed appropriately but that it also creates the balance for those employees.
The downside of working too much
The American Heart Association four that even in those under the age of 50, they had a higher risk of stroke when they worked more than 10 hours each day for a decade or more. Another study across 14 countries noted that people who worked long hours were 12% more likely to drink in excess, which also has long-lasting health effects.
This Guardian article’s sensational title ‘Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you‘ might be news for Americans whose typical workweek is 40 hours or more (compared to a British full-time workweek of 30-37.5 hours). This article cites a Columbia University Medical Center study that notes long periods of being sedentary were detrimental to health: ‘Employees who were sedentary for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were inactive for 11.5 hours.’ If that’s not a reason to get your steps in, I don’t know what is since long sedentary periods are linked to stroke and heart irregularities!
The benefits of working fewer hours
For companies, they’d see more productivity in less time. They’d see fewer mistakes in the work. They’d save on workspace if they closed their site one day a week (savings on water, electricity, free coffee, and so on). Employees are generally reported to be healthier when they work fewer hours, so you’ll cut costs on sick days. Plus, you won’t have to pay out as much annual leave as the annual leave entitlement will change, even if you are still paying full salaries. Overall, companies will see expenses per employee go down and productivity goes up, which is a win for everyone. Plus, if other companies aren’t on board with a four-day workweek just yet, you’ll see increased retention and higher recruitment levels.
For employees, the benefits are bountiful too. Employees cut costs on lunches, fuel and transportation, and just generally have overall improved well-being. Employees are reported to be happier with fewer health issues. They have increased productivity because they know they have time to rest and recover over a long weekend. They have more time for self- and professional development and to reach their life goals. They have more time to spend with family and friends.
Of course, a four-day workweek might not work for every business model but just as people have adapted to a pandemic-affected world, they could adapt to working less with more time off, especially as the world becomes more automated and more digital.
So, as a business owner (or even an employee), do you see the four-day workweek or even increased working from home as something to consider in the future? For Key Medium, we have found working from home a good thing and have learned new ways to connect with the team (even though some are currently remote already). Let us know what you see as the potential benefits and pitfalls of such schemes.
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Elaine Frieman holds a Master’s Degree and is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.