Will the future mean working less?

A harmonious workplace revolves around employers' and employees' goals aligning. Whilst employees strive for workplace satisfaction and appropriate compensation, employers aim for time productivity and low overhead costs. At the end of the day, the two clash.

The best way forward is to find a happy medium that provides job satisfaction and flexibility, whilst simultaneously increasing productivity. This leaves only compensation to resolve, which should ideally be catered for through market forces and a social safety net.

The idea of saving time and money by working smarter rather than harder is something that we all crave. So, how can we evolve such a rigid attitude to work practices, given that there are no natural barriers to doing so?

The desire for a four-day working week

TopCV asked UK workers what company values and ways of working would they want the most when choosing their next job. Coming in first place was the four-day working week, which was ranked number one by a third of the nation.

It's unsurprising that professionals are likely to prioritise flexibility when looking for their next role. After all, 60% of employees work longer than they want. Stanford University research tells us that stretched and overworked employees are more likely to be unproductive and stressed. Therefore, a shorter workweek is likely to promote improved mental wellbeing amongst staff. 

In addition, TopCV's research revealed that 10% of workers would prioritise mental health and wellbeing support when looking for their next role, so it seems a shortened work week would satisfy this desire too.

There are also childcare duties to consider. In the UK, approximately two million people are not in employment due to childcare responsibilities, of which 89% are women. A four-day working week would enable employees to balance care and work commitments more easily. Plus, it would promote an equal, diverse, and inclusive workplace for all, which was another desirable sought by 18% of professionals in the TopCV survey.

Support for redefining the working week

The trend towards flexible work has been gathering pace in recent years with the advent of the gig economy, which is by far the fastest-growing sector. Lawmakers have begun to understand the attraction of job flexibility and, in the UK, parliamentarians are contemplating writing into law the right to work from home.

The UK Labour Party has been pushing a four-day week for years, committing in the 2019 election to deliver a 32-hour working week within a decade if elected. Whilst they suffered a crushing defeat, Corbynism prevails today in Scotland; a coalition of unions, think tanks, and businesses demand that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon bring in a national subsidy, so that a four-day working week can be introduced with no loss of pay. 

This request was prompted recently as the Spanish government revealed their three-year initiative to offer financial incentives to companies that attempt to introduce a 32-hour workweek. This scheme was Spain's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are not alone. In New Zealand, PM Jacinda Arden also supported the virtues of a four-day week as a way to help the economy to recover after the effects of COVID-19.

Experimentation yields results

In 2019, Microsoft ran a one-month trial to test out a four-day work week in its Japan offices, which found many positive outcomes. Employees were not only happier but also significantly more productive, with productivity increasing by 40%. The shorter work week ‒ where employees were still paid the same salary ‒ led to more efficient meetings and employees taking less time off.

In the U.S., Shake Shack started testing the idea over two years ago. The popular burger chain shortened managers' work weeks to four days at some stores and found that recruitment spiked, especially among women.

Nordic countries have long operated on shorter working weeks, where they benefit from both productivity and citizen satisfaction. For example, a study conducted in Sweden found that nurses who worked shorter work weeks logged less sick hours, reported better health, and enjoyed better mental wellbeing. They also showed greater engagement with their day-to-day tasks, as they were seen arranging 85% more activities for the patients in their care during the trial than before. 

How can you ask for a four-day working week?

So, whilst a four-day working week may not be the solution to the economic crisis we are currently facing, if you feel like you would personally benefit from a shorter work week, you can still approach your management and request this flexibility.

Make sure that you do your homework and come up with a list of benefits that your employer gets by giving you a four-day work week. Bring forward a proposal that outlines how you will complete your tasks, communicate with your team and clients, and improve your productivity within this proposed schedule.

Be mindful that your employers will likely be sceptical of this proposal, so you may have to prove your productivity. It could be beneficial to provide examples of companies that have adopted this change and benefitted from it to strengthen your case. Be prepared with supporting facts to argue your case if your boss challenges your proposal.

If you can't convince your boss, don't give up! As laws around flexible work are currently being reviewed, this policy could be adopted in your workplace without your having to ask for it in the future.

Looking to apply to companies with more flexible working weeks? Make sure your CV is ready to get you in the door with a free CV review.

This article was updated in March 2021 by Laura Slingo.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of TopCV.

Recommended Reading:

Related Articles: