Today marks the end of the first week of the much anticipated four-day working week trials.
Over 70 companies and 3,000 workers are taking part in this initials scheme.
Employees will work a shorter week with no loss to pay until December as part of a nationwide pilot scheme that could transform working life in Britain.
The main challenges
Whilst this scheme could help to create a better work life balance for many employees, without clear boundaries and parameters employers are at risk of a quality downturn, leading staff to feel more burnout than they did initially.
“Many businesses are acutely aware of the positive impact that location-agnostic policies can have on employee wellbeing. It is clear that flexibility-forward is the approach of the future, however, ensuring these policies are properly structured is key to making them a success, says Partner and EMEA CEO, Infosys Consulting, Andrew Duncan.
“With the launch of four-day working week trials today, outlining clear parameters around these policies will be vital. Failure to do so risks a downturn in quality as talent attempts to squeeze the same amount of work into a shorter week.
“This also poses risks from a people management point of view – potentially resulting in burnout or staff working outside of agreed hours, setting back aims to improve work-life balance.”
Is a four-day week really the answer?
Are organisations just seeking another way to exert control behind a façade of a four-day gimmick?
Organisations who are thinking about adopting the four-day work week need to use it as a prompt to ask, what is it that they’re trying to solve and are they just sticking plaster to bigger issues.
President at O’Reilly, Laura Baldwin, discusses whether a four-day work week is necessarily the answer: “When it comes to work schedules, what people really care about is flexibility. It’s not about four days or five. Either is still very prescriptive and doesn’t account for the varied reasons many employees want flexibility – for example, to manage five-day-a-week school pick up hours. For the burnt out, overworked employees who went above and beyond during the pandemic, fewer hours, worked flexibly across five days is likely to mean more than a four-day slog.
How will a four-day work week can affect businesses moving forward?
“For businesses, the four-day week can also create complicated scheduling nightmares – especially for smaller organisations. While some larger organisations can implement A/B schedules where, for example, half of the employees are off on the Friday and the other half, Monday, this won’t work for smaller teams that need cover all week. Instead, there needs to be more effort invested in creating real cultures of flexibility, which can best serve employees without forgetting the needs of customers,” suggests Ms Baldwin.
“Quite simply, customers expect (at least) a five-day-a-week service and until every organisation moves to four days as standard there will be a very hard balancing act to cut to four. Dropping the ball on customer experience to pay lip service to flexibility is a losing strategy for all.
“If you’re thinking about a four-day workweek, use it as a prompt to ask, what is it that you are really trying to solve? Are you trying to create a shortcut to flexibility? Will this rather drastic move really create the flexibility your employees want? Will it enable work-life balance, but also get the work done? Could it be you are looking for a sticking plaster to bigger issues? Rather than embracing trust and flexibility for your teams, are you just seeking another way to exert control behind a facade of a four-day gimmick?,” asks Ms Baldwin.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.