Commenting on the four-day working week, Mark Taylor argues that a lot has changed since the Industrial Revolution when it comes to how and where we work.
For example, some countries, including the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Iceland, New Zealand and Spain, recently tested a four-day working week, with many companies in the UK opting to continue with it after the trial ended.
Meanwhile, a new bill in the California State Assembly aims to reduce the official work week to 32 hours for companies with more than 500 employees.
Despite its growing popularity, not everyone thinks a four-day working week is the right thing for the workplace.
In fact, there have been warnings by business experts who believe it could fail to address, or even worsen, the problem of overworked employees and burnout, if not supported by other measures.
Walking a mile in employees’ shoes…
Companies across sectors are paying increased attention to improving our ways of working. In the UK, 56 of the 61 firms that took part in the 4 Day Week trial recently decided to extend the policy after it was considered a success. Nevertheless, it is important that businesses step into the employees’ shoes to consider what the four-day week would mean to them on a long-term basis.
Problems around employee dissatisfaction and overworking are usually complicated and multi-dimensional issues that have to be addressed in a consistent and consolidated manner. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this issue, and that includes a four-day working week. France is a good example of this: the country has had a 35-hour work week (the equivalent of 7 hours per day) since 1998, and its workers suffer from the same problems as employees in other countries.
Our research found that, where the business objective is employee retention, companies should aim to not just overhaul working hours, but enhance the overall employee experience.
Getting to know employee priorities
To improve employee wellbeing and happiness, it is essential to understand and recognise employees’ individual priorities and values. To do this, companies should ask employees what matters to them, leaving no room for assumptions – and this must start right from the get-go at the interview stage. Employee values have changed drastically over the years, and where once salary was king, that’s no longer the case for many.
For example, Cognizant’s Purpose Gap Report found 59 percent of millennial and Gen-Z workers rank feeling passionate about the work they do as the most important factor when defining purposeful work. Likewise, we found employees highly value professional development and potential for future progression, which demands companies to have well-calibrated employee development programmes in place. Having a correctly designed, structured and communicated learning and development programme can go a long way for businesses looking to improve employee attraction and retention.
Making onboarding a success
Getting employee onboarding right is crucial. Businesses should be turning their attention to current onboarding processes for new talent and understanding where they could be improved. Establishing a good relationship with new employees from the beginning is extremely important, as it usually results in a company retaining talent for longer than other businesses in the same industry.
For example, businesses can make new employees feel welcome and taken care of by creating a ‘buddy’ system and ensuring that they have regular catchups with their manager. Having formal and informal meetings with supervisors and other team members, where they can discuss any challenges they might be facing and how to solve them, is a recipe for success. It’s essential to listen to all employees, especially during their first few weeks and months when there can be an information overload, and new teams and processes might feel daunting.
Supporting employees with technology
Even the most engaged employees lose commitment when they do not feel that they are given the tools to do the job in the best, most efficient and rewarding way. Employees can easily optimize their workload with the help of technology. This is especially the case when we are looking at repetitive tasks that don’t require any creative thinking or critical analysis. As a result, employees have more free time to spend on meaningful tasks, such as talking to a customer or attending a brainstorm for a new campaign idea. Detailed journey maps are a useful way of understanding how employees divide their time between tasks – from the simplest to the most complex – and see which could be automated.
In addition to supporting employees, technologies like collaboration tools, enterprise mobile apps or knowledge management platforms, can help them to become more efficient in their roles. Given the fast-moving nature of technology, it is also important to ensure that business technology-related policies are regularly reviewed. If these are outdated, it’s easy for even the most motivated employees to quickly lose engagement, as they might not feel they have the tech support they should.
It is not just about the four-day week
It is important to keep talking about the four-day week, as it reflects an increased focus on employee wellbeing and engagement. However, it should not be treated as a silver bullet and businesses should keep looking for and trying new initiatives to improve the employee experience. This means having a deep understanding of what employees want from the workplace and from there, investing in the right technology to alleviate ever-increasing workloads. Continuously engaging with staff in this way will go a lot further in keeping workers happy.
Mark Taylor is Senior Vice President and the Global Practice Lead for Cognizant Digital Experience.