Working less hours can bring a positive impact to employees and help motivate them to do better, inevitably increasing productivity.
Working less hours can bring a positive impact to employees and help motivate them to do better, inevitably increasing productivity. A recent YouGov poll revealed that 63% of Britons support a four-day work week. But will a four-day work week help bring a better work-life balance? Jonathan Richards, CEO of BreatheHR, a cloud-based HR software solutions for SMEs, believes flexible working hours are far more beneficial.
Overworking can leave staff stressed out and demotivated. By implementing a shorter working, week, employees can prevent burn out. “There would be benefits from a shorter working week, such as maintaining a good work-life balance, which is important as many of us know the impact of overworking,” he said. “It leads to burn out. And that can have knock on effects such as stress, anxiety and longer-term mental health impacts.”
However, Mr Richards warns an arrangement could be tricky to implement. “As a business owner, we have been trialling flexible working which is having a very positive impact,” he said. “A four-day working week could be beneficial, however would be difficult to roll out. “As much as it would please many employees, the most important thing is that businesses create a workplace culture where all employees feel happy and motivated, from the work they are doing and the people they are working with.”
In September, shadow chancellor John McDonnel pledged shorter working weeks with no pay cuts under plans for a future Labour government. He promised to cut the average working week from 37 to 32 hours within a decade.
However, some politicians disagreed. A report commissioned by the Labour Party believe capping hours was "good for material and spiritual well-being" but would not be "realistic or even desirable". All in all, how feasible would it be to implement a four-day work week?
According to Mr Richards, it is more important for bosses to allow greater work flexibility rather than cutting days short, which could leave staff with more work to do in a shorter time frame. “This is not suggesting that overworking should be promoted, rather giving individuals the flexibility to work from home or change their hours to suit their lives,” he added. “Rather than cutting a week short, businesses should try and create a trusted culture where employees are motivated to get the work done, instead of getting the hours under their belt.”
A four-day work week may cause employees to cram five days of work into four, inevitably leaving them more stressed to meeting deadlines. “Businesses can’t afford to lose their best people by working them to the bone, so the introduction of an extra day off could mean staff have the chance to decompress,” Mr Richards added. “However, I believe a four-day week isn’t the only things that would help solved these issues. Offering, flexibility would actually allow employees to work around their own schedules, allowing for a good work-/life balance without the added pressure of feeling they need to fit 5 days’ worth of work into 4."
It is possible for businesses to incorporate a four-day work week, but company culture would be the main driver in the process. On the contrary, not everyone will be willing to accept the change - and some employees may even prefer working longer hours.
“The most important thing when integrating a flexible working into a company is a change of mindset,” Mr Richards said. “The company’s culture will play a huge part in this. As with most business processes, immediately forcing mandatory rules and measures just won’t work – some people will prefer having an extra day to complete their tasks, while others will welcome the shorter week with open arms. The fact is, not everyone will initially be on the same page.”
Mr Richards insisted UK businesses must leave “Victorian attitudes” behind and embrace a better work-life balance for employees in order to promote more favourable work environments.
“In the UK we’re incredibly conscious of ‘showing face’, and this presenteeism just isn’t sustainable or productive anymore,” he said. “Sitting at your desk when you have the flu, when you could be completing work from your laptop at home on your sofa, just doesn’t make business sense. But it’s our perception that if we’re at home, our bosses might think we aren’t taking work seriously. This needs to stop if we are ever to make progress, and we really do need to leave these Victorian attitudes to labour in the 19th century.”
Mr Richards recommends bosses try out a flexible working hours arrangement to see if it is the right fit for the company, allowing them to change working practises early on to best suit the business before implementing the change straight away.
“I’d recommend a phased approach to introducing a flexible workplace programme,” Mr Richards explained. “Implementing it on a trial basis will mean that teething problems are ironed out early on. This means it’s easier to see if productivity levels fluctuate at all, and it helps to understand if flexible working practices suit a specific company. Crucially, it’s giving people the option to work how best suits them that will make flexible working schemes successful. I would also recommend the same approach for companies that are thinking of introducing a 4-day working week.”
Despite the perks of a four-day work week, there are some downsides to the approach. Employees may fail to meet work requirements in the week and fail to meet deadlines on time. Also, retail outlets and shops may not have the privilege of shorter working weeks in order to meet the demands of customers.
“Of course, there are risks associated with a shorter working week. The most prominent risk for an employer is that employees fail to meet the work requirements and the work does not get delivered,” Mr Richards said. “There might also be less synchronicity. Working remotely is great, but it’s no match for face-to-face teamwork and conversations.
“It would also be difficult to roll out across all industries. Some sectors require a 24/7 presence or not the typical 9-5 shifts. This would therefore make a shorter working week less practical. Retail jobs especially and client-facing roles will have trouble implementing this sort of flexibility. But it’s worth at least having the conversation and considering the options as we’re presented with them.”
It is important for employers to put their workers first. Giving staff flexible hours allows for a better work-life balance, which can inevitably increase employee satisfaction and boost businesses to greater heights.