Should Workplaces Switch To 4-day Workweeks Post-pandemic?
COVID-19 has changed our workplaces, from new health and safety procedures to remote working, causing many to think about what the future holds for the way we work. The four-day workweek isn’t a new idea, but it has recently gotten fresh attention after being encouraged by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
In Canada, a trial of this working arrangement is currently underway in a Nova Scotia municipality. The four-day workweek has been steadily gaining support among Canadians, as is demonstrated by a 2018 poll by Angus Reid. The poll found that almost 70% of Canadians would prefer four 10-hour workdays to a traditional workweek, up from 43% in 1981.
How do four-day weeks work?
There are two popular approaches to the four-day workweek. A compressed 40-hour workweek consists of four workdays that are 10 hours long. On the other hand, some argue for a ten-hour workweek consisting of four eight-hour workdays without a reduction of workers’ wages.
What are the benefits?
In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialled the latter, requesting employees to work for only four days without any change to their pay. The company reported a 40% increase in productivity compared to the same period the previous year, demonstrating that employees who are focused and well-rested are more likely to do the same amount of work in less time.
Increased productivity is only of one the arguments presented by supporters of this work structure. A more equal workplace as a result of better work-life balance is another. For example, employees with kids who are able to better manage personal responsibilities may have more energy and focus to dedicate to work.
Absenteeism and high turnover rates can be partially attributed to stress and burnout. A three-day weekend could help reduce the amount of days employees take off by giving them more time to take care of their physical and mental well-being. A four-day week also has environment benefits, eliminating one day’s worth of commuting and using workplace amenities.
What are the drawbacks?
A four-day workweek might be hard to pull off for some business, however. For example, a compressed workweek with 10-hour days might not work for jobs that require physical labour. Increasing daily hours when heavy labour is involved might lead to exhaustion and burnout and reduces the amount of time workers have to rest and spend with their families in the evenings.
Cutting out an entire workday without reducing employees’ pay may also simply be impossible for some businesses financially. A four-day workweek also has draw backs when it comes to customer service and convenience. Workplaces coming across this obstacle could consider scheduling employees to work different days in order to stay open five days a week. Alternatively, employers can look into how technology might allow them to provide services and keep business running as usual on days off.
What should employers consider?
• Is cutting out one day out of the workweek feasible for the business?
• Can the business stagger employees’ workdays to stay open for the full week?
• Can the business provide services on the day off through other means such as technology?
• Will the business implement a compressed workweek or reduce weekly hours?
• Will this change be company-wide or be available to workers on an elective basis?
A four-day workweek is not the only option available to businesses looking for a change. Flexible or staggered working hours have already been implemented by many to improve work-life balance and reduce crowding in the workplace, which is especially important during COVID-19. Remote working also has the same safety and environmental benefits.
Should your workplace have four-day workweeks?
Ultimately, switching to a four-day workweek depends on whether this change is possible and whether it is welcome. Employers should review the questions mentioned above to determine how their workplace would implement such a change and should seek feedback from staff.
If the workplace decides to go ahead with the four-day workweek, the details of the arrangement should be made clear to all staff in a company policy. It is important to be transparent with staff, by updating workplace documentation and making this easily accessible to them.
Kristina Vassilieva is a writer at Peninsula, an HR and Health and Safety consultancy serving small and medium sized businesses across Canada. Kristina covers popular topics in HR, workplace health and safety and legislative changes that affect Canadian businesses.
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