Could you do your job in four days?

Same pay, less hours. Could it work for you?

While ‘The Great Resignation’ sweeps the UK and USA, another (less extreme) approach to reclaiming greater work-life balance post-lockdown is garnering popularity: working four days a week, rather than five.

The idea isn’t to be confused with cramming full-time hours into less days. This new trend has seen businesses across New Zealand, Spain, Iceland, the UK and more give their employees a third day of rest on the same pay.

While you’d expect productivity to reduce, studies of companies who’ve trialled the shift actually reported the opposite.

What are the benefits?

Productivity increased, perhaps as a direct result of workers making the most of their reduced hours – but there’s another suggested explanation, too.

Significant boosts to workers’ wellbeing, stress levels, team engagement, and job satisfaction are also likely contributors to the increase in productivity.

“Workers’ sense of work-life balance went from 54% to 78%. Stress went down. And the missed hours didn’t affect job performance, which actually slightly improved,” writes Adele Peters, who documented the study for Fast Company.

Could it work in the social care sector?

Sure, this could be feasible in knowledge-based industries – but could a four-day week really work in customer-facing roles and caring professions?

If Iceland’s experience is anything to go by, the answer is a solid yes.

Their trials included offices, kindergartens, social service providers and hospitals.

The results were so successful that now around 86 per cent of their entire working population have access to reduced hours on equal pay.

How to pull it off

Researchers analysing the results found that greatest indicator of success is when staff are involved in how it happens.

“Goodwill from both management and employees is vital,” says Professor Helen Delaney who studied the landmark trial in New Zealand company Perceptual Guardian.

This organisation gave employees options to suit each worker, to accommodate those who’d rather start later or finish earlier than reduce their days per week.

Who can make it happen?

A number of commentators including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have also pointed out the potential economic benefits to other industries within the economy – as extra time off means extra time to shop, dine out, and even travel.

So is there a case for the four-day work week to become the new norm state or even nation-wide?

Ardern points out that “ultimately that really sits between employers and employees. But… I’d really encourage people to think about that, if you’re an employer and in a position to do so.”

Potential traps

But there are some things to look out for.

The point behind the experiment is to support workers’ productivity and wellbeing – not for employers to save money.

So if an employer offers you a four day work-week as a potential benefit, be sure it’s still on a full-time salary.

While some have warned the trend could further dampen wages growth, economic journalist Jessica Irvine thinks the idea is “worth putting on the table, mainly because I don’t see much else coming in the way of wage rises for workers any time soon”.

She suggests the four-day work week as a means to potentially see “a little bit of fairer redistribution of economic gains for workers… If you’re not going to get pay rises, you might want to get something else. And one way to get a pay rise, is to get paid the same for fewer hours worked.”

So if your workplace suggests the shift, be sure to keep your eyes wide open and make sure it’s a move to support productivity, not just the company’s bottom line.

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