Many Firms That Tried Out 4‑Day Work Weeks Are Planning to Make It Permanent
The four-day work week is the fabled model that perturbs companies and fascinates a burned-out workforce. There have been qualms about productivity, competitiveness, and the overall efficacy of this entire set-up, but the four-day work week appears to be producing the desired result, according to one of the largest experiments of this kind, so much so that some companies have already decided to shift to this model permanently.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park at the start. But no major change ever is,” said Nicci Russell, managing director of Waterwise, which is currently trying out four-day work weeks. “Some weeks are easier than others and things like annual leave can make it harder to fit everything in, but we’re much more settled with it now overall than we were at the start.”
Waterwise is one of the 73 organizations that agreed to participate in a six-month trial implementing the four-day work week to check how it fared in real-time. Halfway into the trial, 41 of the companies answered a survey that, basically, asked them, “How’s it going?” 86% reported that they were either “likely” or “extremely likely” to permanently adopt the four-day week policy even after the six-month trial is up. 95% also admitted to either their productivity having improved through the shorter week, or the levels staying the same. In other words, if not an increase, there was no loss in productivity either.
The reason Waterwise has decided to continue with the policy is that the team ended up “pretty happy” once they settled into the shorter work week. “We certainly all love the extra day out of the office and do come back refreshed. It’s been great for our wellbeing and we’re definitely more productive already,” Russell added.
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Last month, the U.A.E. also reported the success of the shorter work week in Sharjah government departments. Not only were employees happier, but those who interacted with them in government departments also reported greater satisfaction with the experience, and productivity also shot up. Interestingly, road accidents also came down during the trial period.
A similar trial in Iceland — pre-pandemic, between 2015 and 2019 — had also recorded “overwhelming success.”
“The four-day week is generally considered to be a triple dividend policy — helping employees, companies, and the climate. Our research efforts will be digging into all of this,” explained Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College and lead researcher on the shorter-week scheme in the U.K. It’s resounding success highlights the need for more companies to, at least, experiment with the policy.
The pandemic catalyzed mass questioning of the prevailing work culture that idolizes hustling above all else — ignoring the pitfalls of the hustle culture and dismissing the chronic exhaustion it induces in the workforce. In a way, the global health crisis forced people to confront their mortality, and examine how they have been used to dividing the finite time they have in the world. “Everything I do seems so futile right now — I’m starting to wonder: what’s even the point of working so hard that we don’t even get to spend time with our family and friends, especially when we don’t know what the future is going to hold?” Prakrati, then 25, had told The Swaddle last year. Since the pandemic began, reports have found that one in every three Indian professionals is dealing with burnout.
Soon enough, the “Great Resignation” materialized as people started prioritizing their families and taking greater care of their mental health. Companies, too realized, that unless they re-jigged their policies to reflect the overhaul in their employees’ priorities, they would probably have to bear the adverse consequences of the rising attrition.
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For employees, a four-day work week is financially better too — it helps them save a day’s worth of commuting bills, among other expenses that come with going to work. “A four-day week with no loss of pay could play a crucial role in supporting workers to make ends meet over the next few years,” noted Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, a think-tank focusing on the future of work and economic planning. This becomes even more relevant with global concerns about the rising cost of living continuing to mount alongside food and fuel prices.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for the competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” explained Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global.
Or, perhaps, having lived through the pandemic themselves, their executives had emerged kinder than before, too.
“There is a churn underway in how we understand work and leisure… [The four-day model] pushes us to question the status quo: How do we think of people’s time? Why are there only two days on the weekend? How was this work pattern decided? And, what if, someone went ahead and shaved one day off from the work calendar?” Saumya Kalia wrote in The Swaddle this June.
The long-existing anxiety around the fabled four-day work week model has been that it doesn’t work. But with companies themselves beginning to admit that it does — so much so, that they’re planning to switch to it full time, allays the concerns. More and more people across the globe shifting to it — and even singing its praises — then, points to a revolution being underway.