A four-day working week: The key to an engaged workforce?

A four-day working week: The key to an engaged workforce?

Following the news that the Scottish Government is to launch trials of a four-day working week, a survey has shown that 65% of workers think a shorter working week would make them more productive. 

The trial, as promised in the SNP election manifesto earlier this year, follows in the footsteps of similar successful initiatives in New Zealand and Iceland. It would see hours reduced by 20% without any loss of pay and with hopes to increase productivity throughout the rest of the working week. But could a four-day week become standard practice? And more importantly, could it be the answer to a happier, healthier and more engaged team?

Many businesses and employees are already navigating new territory after the turbulence of the pandemic over the past 18 months. There’s no doubt that for many people, lockdown completely shifted how highly they value their health and happiness, using the time away from their usual day-to-day routine to pursue new interests, hobbies and enjoy quality time with family and friends. We’re already seeing a surge of people leaving their pre-pandemic posts as normal working life resumes, in search of more flexibility and balance. So, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are questioning their ‘typical working week’. It’s being argued by supporters of this initiative, that giving employees an extra day away from work, to focus on themselves and their families, will help boost wellbeing, promote a healthier work/life balance as well as help businesses compete to attract and retain talent, and support the post-pandemic transition. 

Let’s unravel this concept further in the employee engagement and wellbeing space…

The positive effects on employee wellbeing and engagement

The general theory behind a shorter working week is that when employees are happy and fulfilled, this shines through in their work, with higher levels of engagement and motivation to work to the best of their ability and focus on their goals. A four-day working week is a great approach to support a healthy work/life balance and prevent employees from feeling overworked and undervalued which, in the age of the millennial, is a very attractive benefit when businesses are looking to recruit and retain employees. With more time off to rest and recuperate, it’s also thought that a three-day weekend will mean fewer hours wasted at work and lower levels of burnout and presenteeism. So, when employees are working, they can give their all and work in a more efficient way. 

The negative effects on employee wellbeing and engagement

Communication is an essential strand of any business and in order to successfully adopt a new way of working, there would need to be complete clarity of the expectations placed on employees. For example, will this new way of working affect their holiday entitlement? Will they be expected to squeeze five days of work into four days? The latter has the potential to cause a whole host of problems, including increased work-related stress and presenteeism. Not to mention, after a certain amount of hours worked in a sustained period, levels of efficiency decrease. So, the concept could actually have a reversed effect on productivity and work output. Likewise, some professions have tasks that simply take more time than others and therefore working fewer hours with the same pay would be unrealistic. This could lead to employers needing to recruit more staff or pay more in overtime to make up for it.

What do you think about a four-day working week? Could it be the key to a happy and engaged workforce or a recipe for disaster? 

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