There have been a lot of changes to the workplace over the past two years, with the pandemic ramping up remote working at an extraordinary speed.

And now that people have become accustomed to working from home (or the office — they decide!), things are unlikely to go back to how they once were.

Hybrid working is here to stay, and when the pandemic finally ends, people will want more, not less, freedom. So, what could the next big change to hit the workplace be?

Enter the four-day workweek.

In 2019, the Labour party in the UK pledged to reduce the average working week to 32 hours — effectively spreading an eight-hour workday across just four days per week.

Of course, Labour didn’t win the general election in 2019, so the UK is still very much operating a typical five-day working week (although Scotland’s SNP is currently designing a four-day workweek pilot scheme). Other countries such as Iceland, Spain and New Zealand have also trialled a four-day workweek with great success.

But despite many people backing the movement, there are also plenty of sceptics. So, let’s weigh up some of the pros and cons to see whether a shorter working week could actually be good for business and employees…

 The pros

 Most supporters of a four-day working week will argue that it helps to improve work-life balance, employees’ mental health and reduce the risk of burnout or sick leave due to stress.

Considering that a disproportionate number of women take time out from work or reduce their hours due to childcare, a shorter working week could also create a more equal workplace and allow families to juggle care and work commitments better.

One of the caveats of the four-day workweek is that employees are still paid the same amount as they would be for five days, which might leave some employers feeling like they’re giving away 52 holiday days for nothing. But a shorter working week is all about working smarter, not harder.

When people have more time to complete tasks, they subconsciously drag them out to pace themselves. However, when they know they have a shorter amount of time to get things done, they’re likely to be more efficient and produce higher quality work.

Plus, when workers feel happy, motivated and have a healthy work-life balance, they’re much less likely to get sick and take days off or leave the company altogether — both of which can cost employers thousands.

On a societal level, a four-day workweek could also have various benefits. An extra day off could help boost the local economy, as employees spend the day engaging in various leisure activities such as shopping or eating out at cafés and restaurants.

Reducing the workweek from five to four days could also be good for the environment. Countries with shorter working hours typically have a smaller carbon footprint, and fewer journeys to and from work could help to reduce pollution.

The cons

Of course, there are some challenges to shortening the working week — specifically for service industries where customer demands need to be met. As a society, we now expect everything to be open 24/7; a four-day working week doesn’t exactly accommodate this approach. However, using technology such as chatbots could help solve these customer satisfaction issues and allow service industries to move from five to four days.

Another potential challenge facing some companies — again, mainly those in service industries — is costs. Although productivity may increase for traditionally office-based roles, there are some jobs where it’s physically impossible to condense the same amount of work into a shorter period. Take the hotel industry, for example; housekeepers can only clean a certain number of rooms in an eight-hour shift, but the hotel will still have the same number of rooms. If hours are reduced, management will need to hire additional housekeepers to make up the difference.

Equally, while salaried employees may still receive the same pay for working four days instead of five, this is unlikely to be applied to workers on an hourly rate.

Clearly, different sectors will need to respond to the four-day workweek in different ways. But given the concept of our current working hours was created in the 1800s, surely it’s time to at least rethink working conditions and expectations?

Keen to trial a shorter working week at your organisation but unsure how to tackle the HR issues involved? An employer of record can help — get in touch with TopSource Worldwide today for advice on moving forward with this approach.

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Published On: October 11th, 2021Last Updated: March 10th, 2022

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About the Author: Paul Sleath

Paul is responsible for global marketing and communications including brand, advertising, digital marketing, and demand generation. Paul has a wealth of experience previously co-founding PEO Worldwide and was also the former managing director of CPM People/Stipenda.