The pandemic has changed the work structure and expectations for many businesses with many people now working from home; this has come with a mass of challenges and opportunities as this new way of working is reviewed and evaluated to create ‘new normals’.
As the lines between work and home are blur even more, people often work longer hours and are available for work outside office hours. This, paired with long term stress and uncertainty from the pandemic, is all leading to national increases in burnout. Hence, growing calls for review of work practices and hours as a solution to decrease the rise of burnout.
The timing of the pandemic also goes hand in hand with the rise of the four-day working week that was already increasing in popularity, and a new trial that involves 30 UK firms cutting one of their five days for employees for the same salary. The rise in consideration of a four-day working week has also come as it has shown to provide people with better work-life balance and an opportunity to help improve wellbeing, which has also been linked to increased levels of productivity.
The UK’s Trade Union Council called for a four-day working week based on a survey with it’s members around how to best benefit workers; the results revealed that 81 per cent favoured a reduction of at least one day from work. Further evidence suggests that four-day week pilot schemes among workers in some European countries, including Iceland and Spain, are an overwhelming success as they help reduce stress and burnout.
Research from Platform London¹ also found that the economy shifting to a four-day, thirty-two-hour working week, with no reduction in pay for workers, would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by one hundred and twenty million tonnes per year. The reduction in working hours correlates with sustainable energy and consumption, and the reductions in commuting to work would encourage people to contribute to doing more carbon-negative activities.
But many businesses are still unsure of what this actually means and how they would make such a huge change. For example, how does the reduction of work days affect holiday entitlements? How is it decided which day isn’t worked? What if clients need support when employees aren’t working? Are the full hours split between the four days, or is the fifth day lost completely? And what most employers what to know, how does it affect productivity?
Many businesses have already adopted a hybrid working system and more businesses are now trialling a four-day working week due to higher demands for more flexible working options. However, despite many studies and businesses showing positive results from the new approach, there are concerns from both employers and employees around what it actually looks like in practice ahead of any implementation.
With a reduction in working days, the idea is that productivity isn’t affected and benefits are felt throughout the workforce. But getting to this place can take some practice to find what works and can be individual to the particular workforce and industry. One company, Flexioffices, have documented their trial and transition period, recording the highs and lows, as well as challenges faced and solutions put in place along the way, to offer guidance around how different aspects worked for them.
They trialled a variation of practices over a month period, including rotating non-working days, having ‘tiered’ experience levels and a new system to ensure responsibilities were managed when employees were absent. They also saw a dip in productivity and had to review practices until the new structure proved beneficial and even provided their highest performance levels. The trial went through different stages of revisions before landing with success, which has been credited to a culture of open communication.
A common approach for implementing the four-day week focuses on employees sharing traditional hours over four days and reducing the total weekly days required. Organisations are suggested to utilise hours post 5.30pm to reach out to clients, complete tasks, or for employees to have the choice to start work earlier to get ahead with tasks. The alternative option is for businesses to work the typical 8 hours per four days, which has raised concern around working less hours to produce the same amount of work. Both options can impact salary which is currently with the employer to decide upon.
Flexible working can provide benefits all round, with higher retention rates for businesses, and with productive engagement and less burnout for employees – both physically and mentally. Many employees are thinking about how to make their work-life balance more suitable and wanting to manage responsibilities due to childcare, which more employers are supporting through new flexibility arrangements.
Michael Dubicki, Director of Business Development at Flexioffices, commented: “The pandemic has altered how we are working, with businesses finding flexible working can help productivity levels and overall wellbeing. Additionally, it’s becoming an increasingly in demand and attractive benefit which helps with employee retention. We’re seeing it with many businesses we work with and understand it’s time to jump on and lead the wagon, rather than get left behind. But there’s not a lot of guidance on how to actually do it, from holidays to salaries to what time is worked, so hopefully our experience can help make it work for more people.”