The Four Day Week; Is It The Future Of Work?


Social isolation, combined with remote working has blurred the lines between home and work. And there is a temptation for employees to do more; to work longer hours and desperately try to 'stay ahead' of their mammoth workload. After all, the laptop is right there, and there's nothing worth watching anyway...might as well do a bit more...


Survey's conducted last year, indicated that UK workers were working longer hours when working remotely than before Covid to the tune of an additional 2 hours a day or an average of 25% of their working week.


The irony here, is that working longer hours actually reduces productivity, work satisfaction, and engagement, and increases stress. So the longer you spend 'working' - and let's face it, taking frequent breaks to check the news, shop and try today's Wordle don't really count - the less effective you actually are and the harder it will be to disconnect from work and relax.


I had an interesting conversation with a medical consultant yesterday who argued that instead of promoting employee wellbeing through training and resilience building (my line of work), employers should simply cut their worker's daily hours and switch to a 4 day week.


She told me that she had been exhausted for her entire career, until she reached a point where she could choose her hours and prove that she could deliver the same workload in fewer days. She now feels more energised and is able to maintain a better work-life relationship.


So is a shorter work day or work week the answer?


The verdict - maybe.


It's just more complicated than a simple yes or no. What we do know is that countries with the highest working hours are also the ones with the lowest productivity. Conversely, those with the shortest work days are the most productive.


And it has to be said that not every experiment has resulted in success, and a one size fits all approach may not be the answer. But, a four day working week with a flexible 6 hour day seems to be the most effective combination.


With that in mind, I will be interested to see the results of the newly started UK 4 day week trial that sees the 4 Day Week campaign, think tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College studying whether employees can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time.


Around 30 UK companies are taking part in this six-month trial of a four-day week, where employees will be paid the same amount as if they were working their usual five days. They are expected to do the same amount of work as before and work up to 35 hours a week over 4 days.


But 35 hours in four days still seems like a lot. Personally, I'm not convinced that working 4 very long days will give the relaxation time required to reduce stress and eliminate burnout. It is more likely that you will need the extra day to recover from the mental fatigue caused by spending 8 hours a day focusing on being highly productive.


And how does working 4 longer days give you the time to spend with your family or friends, or on wellbeing promoting self-care activities?


I remember the wonderful feeling of freedom on the incredibly rare occasion when I was able to leave work before 4pm. Jumping into my car knowing that I had plenty of time to exercise, walk in the park, go for a coffee with a friend, or make a healthy meal before I even started my evening was heaven!


Maybe it's less about dictating which days people should work, and more about promoting healthy hours of work?


Leading by example and promoting a work culture that values work as much as rest can help. This can be achieved by; scheduling meetings only when necessary, and strictly during work hours (i.e. not over lunch!); making it a policy not to contact employees during their time off (email scheduling can help with this); encouraging healthy work boundaries; and organising events that promote wellbeing.


There's nothing to stop your company trialling a 6 hour day and four day week, or just a 6 hour day! But it does come down to trust and belief that your employees will respond positively.


In the meantime, providing the option for flexible working for all staff is a great initial offering, as is taking regular wellbeing surveys and ensuring workloads are manageable.


Get in touch to find out how I can help your team improve their wellbeing at work by building better boundaries and creating positive habits.

 

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