Should Companies Consider a Shorter Working Week?
The idea of a shorter working week has become more popular in recent times after the increase in hybrid and remote working gave workers a better work life balance. Both employers and employees saw the benefits of working flexible hours first-hand. Now, some people maintain that companies should implement a shorter working week, to further benefit that work life balance. But what would this look like in practice?
There are a few different models of the shorter working week that businesses could consider. They all involve reducing the hours worked by the employee – so, it won’t mean people will work their usual 35-40 hour work week in four days. Instead, it might be that the entire business just operates Monday to Thursday, or it might be that individuals work four different days across the week, so the business is still open Monday to Friday. It might be that some people take a couple of afternoons off or work shorter hours across five days. Whatever the structure, there would be no reduction in salary for any employee.
There are many arguments for and against companies operating on a shorter working week, and the specific details will vary depending on the individual business and the employees. We delve into these claims to see whether companies should be considering a shorter working week.
What are the Benefits of a Shorter Working Week?
Research shows that working shorter hours can actually boost productivity. With fewer hours to work, people will tend to prioritise their workload better, work in a more focused manner and limit any distractions. Meetings are usually held more efficiently, and people can produce just as much, if not more work than they would when working longer hours. When Microsoft experimented with a 4-day work week, they found productivity was boosted by 40%.
Longer hours do not necessarily mean more work output. In fact, people who are overworked are often much less productive than people who work an average or shorter working week. Reducing hours and ensuring tasks are more streamlined can help people to work much more efficiently.
Better Employee Health and Wellbeing
When employees work a shorter week, they are often happier and healthier. With more time to rest, relax, and take care of their personal life, employees will usually come to work ready to tackle challenges and work to the best of their ability. It also means that there will be fewer absences due to health reasons, as people have plenty of time to recover if they fall ill and they’ll also be less likely to suffer from stress at work.
Belgium has recently given workers the option to request to work a four-day week, condensing their current 38-hour week into five days. The Belgian government cited the importance of work life balance for their reasoning behind the change. It’s thought that employees who have an extra day off will be able to spend more time with their family, and also protect their own physical and mental health.
A shorter working week can help employees to avoid suffering from burnout. Burnout symptoms include exhaustion, anxiety, and reduced productivity. When people have more time away from work, they can avoid these symptoms and ensure a healthy mind at work.
With less time at work, people also have more time to look after their physical health, by exercising or having more opportunities for health check-ups and appointments. A healthy body often results in a healthy mind, so this can also help to produce a happy, healthy workforce.
Employees who have plenty of opportunities to look after their physical and mental wellbeing will usually be much more committed to their company, and businesses often see higher retention rates as well as increased productivity.
Smaller Carbon Footprint
Working a shorter week could have benefits for the environment, as well as the employees and the company. If companies implement the four-day model, employees will be commuting one less day per week, which will massively reduce their carbon footprint.
As well as transport to the office, environmental benefits will be seen in only operating large office buildings for four days a week instead of five, with much less energy wasted. This will also result in reduced overheads for the company, with less money being spent on energy and water bills when employees are working fewer hours in the office.
What are the Disadvantages of a Shorter Working Week?
If customers are used to having access to a company five days a week, reducing this to four days could cause problems and ultimately result in the customer going elsewhere. This could be combatted by implementing a model where employees work fewer hours over five days or are on different four-day scheduled across five days. This way, you could always ensure customers are able to contact the business on the days they expect to.
Alternatively, you could implement technology to assist on the day where office staff won’t be working, like automated chatbots or by providing knowledge resources for customers to use. However, there is a cost involved with this that won’t be appropriate for every company. Plus, some customers will always prefer to speak to a real person, rather than an AI, so using technology could still result in poor customer satisfaction.
It Won’t Suit Every Industry
There will be many industries where a shorter working week won’t be appropriate. Some businesses are required to be available 24/7, or even five to seven days a week, rather than four. If employees in these industries worked shorter weeks, customers could face delays and employees could find they’re unable to complete their work properly.
This could be prevented by employing more staff to work shorter weeks on different schedules, so the full week is still always covered. However, this will result in a higher cost for the company, both in recruitment and salaries, and could also cause confusion with employee responsibilities being shared between people from one day to the next.
It Won’t Suit Every Individual
As well as a shorter working week not being suitable for some industries, it might not be suitable for certain individuals and roles. Some people might prefer to work over five days and might be able to produce better work when they have more time to take with it. Some people might find that they are unable to do their job to the best of their ability within four days, or that their role doesn’t allow for it. This can then cause discrepancies within the team if some people are able to work a four day week and others can’t.
If employees are asked to work a four day week or reduced hours, they could just try to work the same number of hours in a shorter timeframe. They then run the risk of suffering from occupational burnout, by working too much. Not only will this negatively affect their mental and physical health, but it will also mean they can’t produce work efficiently.
Final Thoughts on a Shorter Working Week
Whilst there are undoubtedly benefits to a shorter working week, it will be a huge change for any business and should be approached with care. Companies should take the time to consider the impact it will have on their business and also reach out to employees to get their opinion on changing the working structure.
In the meantime, for businesses wanting to take on their employer duty of care, offering flexitime and options for hybrid working can be a great way to help employees maintain their work life balance, and take care of their mental and physical wellbeing at work.
Leitz has coined the term WorkLeitzBalance, meaning the art of balancing all aspects of a multifaceted work life without compromising on design, quality, reliability, or sustainability. Our range of office essentials has been designed with this concept in mind, from stylish and practical storage and filing boxes, to desk organising units, to ergonomic products to maintain employee health at work.
Read our below articles for more information on how employers can take care of their employees: