November 11 , 2019
The 4 Day Work Week as the Next Step in the Technology Revolution
Last month shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, announced plans to commit £90 billion of spending pledges to slash the average working week from the current average of 42 hours to only 32 hours — the equivalent of a four day work week.
Under the proposed plans, employees would continue to receive the same annual salary while working an average of 10 hours less a week.
Business leaders baulked at these plans, accusing the shadow chancellor of harming the UK economy and trying to shut down big businesses.
Could the 4 day workweek be an actual possibility? And, if so, will this harm the UK economy?
The Current State of the 4 Day Work Week
The 4 day work week is not a new concept as businesses have long known that overworked employees ultimately harms the bottom line.
France reduced the average workweek to 35 hours over 20 years ago, and the Netherlands leads the way with employees only working an average of 29 hours per week, the lowest of any industrialised nation. Both countries continue to have stable, thriving economies despite employees working fewer hours.
Microsoft Japan recently tested out the four day work week with some surprising results. Less time during the workweek actually created more efficient meetings, happier employees and increased productivity by 40% — a win, win for employers and employees.
Japan has traditionally had a culture of overworked, stressed-out employees. With a staggeringly high rate of death from overwork (also known as ‘‘karoshi”), the idea of reducing the workweek to four days is radical. Far more radical than dropping 10 hours off the UK average working week.
Working 4 Days a Week Advantages
A four day work week, as we saw in the Microsoft trial run, could unlock benefits for both employees and employers. Employees’ get better living standards, work-life balance and health benefits while employers have a more engaged, productive and settled workforce.
1. Increased Productivity
One of the most significant benefits of a four day work week is increased productivity. The idea is that if employees have less time to accomplish the same amount of work, they’ll make smarter decisions about how they spend their time. Rather than spending hours in unproductive meetings, employees will better prioritise tasks and make their hours at work count.
Research has shown that productivity significantly drops after 50 hours on the job. Employees become tired, stressed and lose focus. So burning the midnight oil and asking employees to work long-hours may actually harm your business.
Employees at Microsoft saw a 40% increase in productivity during the trial project. Employees also took less time off, were happier at work and enjoyed a better work-life balance; all of which are factors that contribute to overall productivity levels.
2. Increased Diversity
Most companies now realise the benefits of a diverse workforce. Whether it’s driving innovation, remaining competitive or attracting a wider customer base, diversity is an essential ingredient for successful companies.
However, businesses can struggle to attract a diverse workforce by expecting employees to work long hours. The Government Equalities Office reports that 2 million people in the UK are currently unemployed due to childcare commitments and 89% of these people are women.
Embracing a four day work week would help more parents pursue their careers while balancing childcare commitments and taking care of their families.
3. Employee Retention
As almost all HR professionals know, recruiting new employees is time-consuming and expensive. Replacing an employee costs an average of £30,000, a figure most businesses would rather avoid.
Cutting your workweek to four days can not only boost employee morale, but it also leads to a more committed and loyal workforce. Research from the CIPD shows that the higher levels of engagement achieved through flexible working reduce employee turnover by as much as 87%.
So, the four day work week could make the difference between retaining your valuable employees or watching them walk out the door.
Technology Supporting the Four Day Work Week
Proponents of the four day work week believe employees can be just, if not more, efficient in four days than the standard five day work week.
This concept stems primarily from the supporting technology. As technology, like AI and machine learning, becomes more common in the workplace, time-consuming and repetitive tasks can be streamlined.
Eliminating ‘busy work’ tasks would free up employees to focus on more meaningful and productive aspects of their work.
Increased automation could provide a revenue boost for employers, but it could leave employees without work.
The British Trade Union’s recent report ‘A Future that Works for Working People’ expresses concern over job security as machine learning and AI automates more and more of our work environment.
“The question should be less whether there is enough wealth or work to go around, but how that wealth is distributed.”
Allowing employees to continue earning the same amount while working less offers one solution to sharing the benefits of a more technologically advanced workplace.
As TUC explains,
“If new technology makes us richer, we can be ambitious about how we use that wealth to give us more time to spend with family and friends.”
Will a Four Day Work Week Happen?
Allowing your employees to work four days, but paying them for five days is a hard pill for most businesses to swallow. Why would you pay your employees for less time at work?!
But, the problem is how we consider and measure employee performance. Rather than a ‘bums on seats’ approach, we should measure by output. If employees can manage the same workload and achieve the same results in less time, why shouldn’t they receive the same salary?
As our world becomes more technologically advanced, we’ll have opportunities to change how we work. Technology has already opened previously undreamed of possibilities, like fully remote working or virtual collaboration. A four-day workweek is the next natural step in our technological revolution.