Previously published on Forbes
Leaders, it’s time to get more creative about the way you expect your team to work. 100 years ago, Henry Ford instituted a five-day, 40-hour workweek. “The Covid-19 era ushered in broader acceptance of remote and hybrid work arrangements. Now, some employers, as well as policy makers, are exploring whether a shorter workweek can improve employee well-being and loyalty,” writes Vanessa Fuhrmans for The Wall Street Journal. Implementing a four-day workweek with no reduction in pay for your team may sound like heresy. But it’s good for your people and it’s good for your business.
Autonomy Research, a UK based think-tank which focuses on the future of work, published findings from a trial in February 2023. They surveyed 61 companies and 2,900 employees in the U.K. to gather surprising data and conclusions. But it’s not only happening in the UK. Canadian and US companies are engaging in similar trials, as well as companies in Brazil and Australia. Something is going on.
Here's the bottom-line: the benefits of a shorter working week with no reduction in pay are well-evidenced: employees are happier and healthier, and the organizations they work for are often more productive, more efficient, and more easily retain team members.
“Some of the most extensive benefits of shorter working hours were found in employees’ well-being. ‘Before and after’ data shows that 39% of employees were less stressed, and 71% had reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial. Likewise, levels of anxiety, fatigue and sleep issues decreased, while mental and physical health both improved. Shorter working hours have employees less stressed and burned out, with feedback also suggesting improved mental and physical health,” states the report on the UK’s four-day week pilot. Turnover dropped 57% over the trial.
Other positive effects realized by those companies in the trial include revenue staying broadly the same over the trial period and rising by an average of 1.4%. When compared to a similar period from previous years, organizations reported average revenue increases of 35% indicating healthy growth during the period of reduced work time. Moving to fewer hours on the job does not correlate to a decline in organizational productivity or performance. Less hours on the job doesn’t mean less output.
Of course, this is not a one-size fits all approach. It seems most suited to those organizations with more Henry Ford-like working structures – 40-hour, five day work weeks.
Are you ready to do your own trial of 90 - 120 days to see what you find out about productivity, employee engagement and overall effectiveness? Where might you begin to discern for yourself if this big idea works?
Get your hands around the unnecessary hours that could be done away with, consider addressing fundamental inefficiencies like overlong meetings, or processes that are outdated, distractions in the workday, or inefficient uses of technology. With this kind of approach, you can go a long way toward a shorter workweek without undermining your bottom line. And you will have a more streamlined business to show for it.
Think creatively. You don’t have to embrace a four-day workweek. It could be annualized, staggered, or decentralized reduction in hours worked for your team. The big idea is to think about how work gets done in new and maybe unfamiliar ways. Who knows? You might be the next name we attribute to a 100-year way of working.