The introduction of COVID-19 prompted most organisations across the world to evaluate working practices and contemplate how they can work more efficiently.
In 1930, during the Great Depression, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we would all have a 15-hour workweek “within 100 years.” The idea remained just an idea for close to a century, until 1998, when France enacted the first of its two “Aubry” laws that reduced the national workweek to 35 hours instead of 39, with excess hours counting as overtime.
The general concept is that by working more efficiently, there is no reason why people cannot work less hours and be equally, if not more, effective. However, this can come with pitfalls. Let’s look at the Perpetual Guardian case study.
NZ Case Study: Perpetual Guardian
In March and April 2018, the firm ran an experiment that reduced their workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours, for all 240 employees, while still paying the same salaries. They hired researchers to record the results quantitatively, and what they found showed support for the four-day workweek:
- 24% more employees felt they could successfully balance their work and personal lives.
- Stress decreased by 7% among everyone involved.
- Overall work satisfaction increased by 5%.
As reported, with the benefit of an extra free day, employees were motivated to meet productivity requirements. This motivation inspired workers to devise better work habits and use their time more economically.
All in all, sounds positive – however with most shifts in the norm, there are positives AND negatives to considering a new path:
- Better productivity – productivity during work hours increases to compensate for the lost day.
- More efficient usage of time – employees spend less time on in unnecessary meetings and are less likely to procrastinate on social media/take long breaks.
- Employee satisfaction – with less stress and a greater work-life balance, employees can be more engaged in the work that they are doing.
- Team building – the entire team’s goals can be more focused under the desire for efficiency.
- Environmental benefits – a four-day workweek critically reduces each individual employee’s carbon footprint by removing commute pollution.
- Fewer overhead costs – if all your employees are out of the office one day a week, that reduces all office maintenance fees by 20%, especially electricity.
- More productivity innovations – by encouraging new time-saving methods, employees are more likely to think up newer and better productivity hacks.
- The risk is expensive –the biggest drawback for employers is the costly risk that workers fail to meet their work requirements. This was most evident in Sweden’s two-year trial that reduced a 40-hour week to 30 hours while continuing a five-day structure. While the study recorded higher worker satisfaction, it ultimately became too costly to uphold.
- Not all industries can participate – some industries require a 24/7 presence or other such scheduling, making a four-day workweek impractical.
- There might be un-utilised labour – a study on the Netherlands’ workweek revealed that 1.5 million people wanted to work more hours but were unable to.
- Workers put in the same hours anyway – some jobs just take time and people may just put the hours in to complete the job anyway.
- Certain industries might suffer – industries like office real estate benefit from people being at work in a way that wouldn’t be transferred to whatever the workers do in their day off – which we are already seeing anyway since COVID-19 has spurred a rise in working from home.
- Health & Safety – there could be issues in this area in trying to cram work into less time, which could lead to accidents.
- Pressure Cooker effect – the pressure to fit the work that needs to be done into four days could create a ‘pressure cooker’ scenario.
- People may not necessarily get the day they want – therefore it may not actually be of benefit to them and could lead to unnecessary resentment in the team as to who were able to secure preferential days such as Monday or Friday.