By Suzie Coen
Workplaces have been experimenting with different types of working arrangements for years now, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for flexibility far more pressing.
This has led to the intensification of many global campaigns around flexible working, among them a call for a four-day work week.
Interest in the concept of a four-day week has surged globally among national governments, companies, employees, nonprofits and researchers.
Although no country has fully adopted a nationally-mandated four-day work week to date, many countries are experimenting with pilot programmes, or are already operating a condensed working week.
In recent years, four-day week projects have taken place in various forms in Spain, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Iceland as well as in Ireland, the US and Canada.
The UK trial of the four day week––which ran from June to December 6, 2022––has given this model incredible momentum, with 70 companies and 3,300 employees signing up for the pilot run by 4 Day Week Global, the think tank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week campaign.
In New Zealand, 81 employees working for the consumer goods giant Unilever are currently taking part in a year-long trial of a four-day work week at full pay.
2023 will be the year when several other pilot schemes become available in other countries including a UK government trial in Scotland and Wales.
Wherever the four-day week with no loss of pay has been trialled across the world, it’s been mostly a win-win for workers and employers. This is why.
A shorter work week is better for people
In a 2021 Harvard Business Review global survey, 89 per cent of respondents said that “work-life was getting worse”; 85 per cent reported lower levels of well-being and 62 per cent said they had experienced burnout during the pandemic.
Some companies are recognising that shorter work weeks are a way to offer employees a better work-life balance.
Experts found that employees who enjoyed an extra day for “life” were more engaged, took fewer sick days and experienced less burnout.
Employees in a pilot study in Iceland reported less stress, fewer instances of burnout and improved mental and physical health. They also felt happier and more energised at work.
Working less is also good for business
An in-depth examination of the relationship between hours worked and productivity, conducted by Stanford University, revealed that overworked employees are less productive than those working an average or normal working week.
In fact, another experiment published by the Harvard Business Review shows shorter work days, a decrease from the average eight-hour work day to a six-hour work day, increased productivity.
In 2021, New Zealand based company, Perpetual Guardian conducted a trial study of a four-day work week. Not only did employees maintain the same productivity level, but they also showed improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work-life balance and company loyalty.
Employees also experienced less stress with a decrease of 45 per cent to 38 per cent.
When Microsoft trialled a four-day week for the month of August in its Japan office in 2019, the company claimed productivity went up by 40 per cent. Microsoft Japan also found that electricity costs fell by 23 per cent.
A four-day work week addresses gender equality
Four-day work weeks also create a more equitable workplace.
Research on the Gender Pay Gap from the UK Government Equalities Office shows that roughly two million British people are currently unemployed due to childcare responsibilities, and 89 per cent of them are women.
A four-day work week would promote an equal workplace as all employees would be able to spend more time with their families, and better juggle care and work commitments.
Going to the office less helps the environment
Shortening the work week can reduce commutes and shrink your global carbon footprint.
According to a study conducted by the environmental organisation Platform London and the 4 Day Week campaign, implementing a four-day work week by 2025 would reduce Britain's carbon emissions by more than 20 per cent, or 127 million metric tonnes.
That would be equivalent of pulling the nation’s entire fleet of private cars off the roads.
Less work might not suit everyone
As much as many of us might all desire a four-day work week and flexible working practices, it’s understandable that not all businesses and sectors will benefit from this initiative or consider it at all.
Implementing a four-day work week can be difficult as it requires the right support, technology and workplace culture.
It won’t suit all industries, as some sectors require a seven-day-a-week presence, for instance those working in emergency services and public transport.
It doesn’t suit all workers as some employees prefer the structure of a five-day week – and some even like working overtime.
A shorter week could also increase costs in some cases. Some sectors, such as healthcare, require staff to work long shifts.
Companies in these areas may have to pay more overtime or draft in staff to deal with a shortage of workers.
Unavoidably, new changes will encounter some challenges and disadvantages.
Perhaps shutting business doors on a Thursday doesn’t work for everyone, but maybe staggered shifts and flexible rosters might be widely considered instead.
Despite the challenges, calls for a four-day week in the wake of the Great Resignation of 2022 will only grow louder.
Reducing the overall number of hours worked is an exciting experiment with potentially positive implications for mental and physical health.
Although it’s unlikely to become mandatory, workers will increasingly look for opportunities with companies that offer flexibility as an incentive, meaning those companies that do provide it will have first pick of the best recruits.
Employers are aware that a four-day week is a great way to address staff retention and recruitment when competitors are increasingly offering fully-remote work.
With many businesses struggling to afford 10 per cent inflation pay rises, there is increasing evidence that a four-day week with no loss of pay is being offered as an alternative solution.
If you’re striving for a proper work-life balance this year, it’s time to explore new ambitious career paths that also offer more attractive flexible working opportunities.
Head to the Euronews Jobs Board where you can browse thousands of jobs right now. Here are three hiring this week.
Flexibility is deeply rooted in this company’s values and culture and the majority of its workforce is hybrid. From onboarding, it offers a selection of broad work styles to all employees, whether they’re located in North America, Ireland, Germany or remote.
Worth noting here is that remote employees are primarily home-based, and not assigned to a specific eBay worksite.
Bauer Media Group
Discover a similar dedication to flexibility at progressive companies such as Bauer Media Group which is currently offering open roles across UX designers, analysts, software asset management analysts and global change managers.
The media corporation recognises and states in its hiring policy that it believes the traditional 9-5, five-day-a-week doesn’t suit everyone and that once it finds the “right” hire, Bauer is committed to finding the right (flexible) working approach for them.
If you’re looking to work for a company that’s particularly focused on a hybrid work model, look no further than the European online e-tail platform Zalando.
Many job openings for backend engineers, software engineers, IT developers and market finance managers are available.
Zalando’s hybrid working model is 60 per cent remote per week, and if you work from an office in your role, home office equipment is delivered to you to support you working from home.
The cherry on top here is the opportunity to work from abroad for 30 (working) days per calendar year.