Can a 4 day work week improve your business’s productivity?

Developing your hiring practices

Putting the time into developing hiring practices that allow the role and culture to be at the forefront of your capabilities is important. Hiring can be extremely time-consuming, so establishing some basic structures early-on will help reduce the resource drain.

Worker productivity relies not just on the sheer amount of hours put in, but on the wellbeing, fatigue levels and overall health of the worker. However, since the 1970’s, although productivity has increased by a factor of 2.5, we have yet to reduce working hours.

There is a belief that reducing working hours will reduce productivity, for both business and the economy as a whole. However, empirical research, from The productivity of working hours study, suggests otherwise. Across the world’s richest countries, higher productivity correlates with lower working hours. Why could this be? And how can you implement it in your business?

Reduce Sick Leave

Overwork is the major reason for sickness at work, with one-in-four of all sick days lost as a direct result of workload. A Swedish study found that shortening the workweek by 9 hours had an array of physical benefits such as better sleep quality, reduced mental fatigue and improved heart and respiratory function.

It has long been known that overwork can also have a detrimental impact on the mental health of your employees. A 1990’s study of Whitehall British civil servants found that those working more than 11 hours a day were more than twice as likely to have major depression five years later than those working a regular 7-8 hours.

A survey of workers across all industries by the mental health charity Mind, discovered that 70% of workers found it more difficult to concentrate and 46% put off challenging work whilst experiencing poor mental health. These factors drastically reduce the productivity of workers and increase costs to employers.

Societal Benefits

Switching to shorter hours or a 4 day work week could potentially have a profoundly positive impact on society at large.

One such area would be reducing the impact and cost of childcare. Currently, a much higher proportion of women than men work part-time, with 41% of women work part-time, compared to 12% of men, which has a significant impact on income and career progression. This is primarily because of the division of childcare. Those who work part-time are, hour-for-hour, less well-paid than their full-time counterparts at every level of qualification and part-time workers can struggle to progress up the career ladder.

This is not only bad for women. The economic impact of gender disparities in the workplace is significant. It’s estimated that a failure to use women’s skills is costing the country £36B a year, equal to 2% of GDP. Bridging the UK gender gap in work has the potential to increase GDP by £150B by 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees. If both men and women could enjoy a better work-life balance, they can both care for their families better.

A shorter working week also has environmental benefits. It’s a simple concept: when the lights are on for four days rather than five, and employees are commuting less, costs and carbon emissions are lowered. A recent report from the Centre for Economic Policy Research suggested a worldwide shift to a four-day week could reduce carbon emissions enough to halve expected levels of global warming between now and 2100. For businesses, it could also help the bottom line. It has been reported in the Four Better or Four Worse study, that current savings for UK companies who have implemented a 4-day workweek are a staggering £92B.

Implementing a 4 day work week

The traditional 40-hour workweek is archaic, A new work model should be implemented, allowing us to thrive rather than just survive. Implementing a 4-day work week or even a reduction of hours spent in the workplace can be straightforward for many office-based roles. You can choose one day a week to “close-shop” or have your team alternate their third days off e.g. Monday or Friday, so the phones are always answered.

It can be more complicated for certain industries where normal office hours do not apply, however, it is far from impossible. For example, Shake Shack, a fast-food chain, is currently trialling a 4-day work week in some of their US-based branches.

Making use of technology

The UK economy has shown a weak productivity growth over the past 10 years and one culprit for this is the comparatively low level of investment in automation technologies. For comparison, the number of robot units for every 10,000 employees is 93 in the US, 154 in Sweden, 170 in Germany but only 33 in the UK. Automation can reduce work hours if used appropriately, allowing employees time for recreational activity and rest, feeding their focus and creativity.

If you choose to take the time to question what is really best for your business and do not fear challenging the status quo, implementing a reduced workweek could in fact give you the competitive edge. These changes are not solely to be made for improving the company, these changes will be imperative for survival as next-generation workers and leaders will demand them.

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