By Sunith Kunder
As the new year beckons, most professionals were excited by one particular labor code. The 4-day week culture was seeming to finally arrive on our shores, with everyone looking forward to the very much needed and extended weekend.
But this excitement would be short-lived. The ministry has clarified that even if the new labor law comes into force, the 48-hour weekly work requirement has to be met, which would mean that we now officially need to clock in 12 hours a day.
But are these steps being taken in the spirit of encouraging work-life balance or are they a mere way to mimic the policies of western culture for namesake?
At least, 30 countries have a less than 45 hours work week, according to a 24/7 Wall Street Report. Come January 2022, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is set to change its existing five-day workweek to a four-and-a-half day starting January 1, becoming the world’s first country to make the employee-friendly transition as part of its efforts to improve productivity and work-life balance.
One would probably be wondering how such a favorable situation is even possible. Why would business owners allow their employees to work only 4 days a week? Won’t the company suffer as a result?
An in-depth examination of the relationship and productivity conducted by Stanford University revealed a clear correlation between the two factors. Overworked employees are less productive than employees working an average or normal working week.
New Zealand-based company, Perpetual Guardian, conducted a trial study of a 4-day workweek. 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% to 38%. A shorter workweek will allow employees to complete their errands on the extra time they now have on their hands, this will reduce the interference and distractions during their core working hours.
The results from this study are relatively unsurprising given that some of the world’s most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, on average work around 27 hours a week — the same hours proposed for a UK 4-day work week. On the other hand, Japan, a nation notoriously known for overworked employees, ranks as the 20th out of 35 countries for productivity.
Improved Employee Engagement
A 4-day work week would promote an equal workplace as employees would be able to spend more time with their families and better juggle care and work commitments. The reduced number of work hours would help employees recuperate, reduce stress, reduce the hours spent churning out reports
and manage complex work tasks thus fostering better health and mental wellbeing and greater engagement. Employees will now have the time to nurture hobbies and indulge in activities that they enjoy which will result in them coming back to work happier.
When implemented with the employee at the center of the idea, the reduced working hours have indicated that the quality of work has improved in these countries over time due to the change.
Towards a Sustainable Path
Countries with shorter working hours typically have a smaller carbon footprint – reduced commute, less use of office space, infrastructure so reducing the workweek can have an environmental benefit too. A benefit that companies only began to realize during this pandemic.
Another subset of this new culture is the cost saved by organizations on the reimbursement claims towards travel and food and expenses incurred towards pantry and tea/ coffee during the day.
Improved Recruitment and Retention
In the age of the millennial, being able to offer a more flexible work pattern is a perk that persuades employees to stay at a company. Organizations that make a mark in inculcating this new trend will not only be able to attract talent but also keep them engaged.
What stops us from implementing the 4-day week?
While all looks great and beneficial for organizations to implement the 4-day week, there are certain downsides to the entire movement.
While employees have embraced the work-from-home concept, a common complaint has been the lack of social connection, the cooler conversations with colleagues. And some workers might find that a compressed week gives them a constant pre-vacation-type pressure to get more work done in less time—a level of stress that’s unsustainable. Also arises the question of association and collaboration, something that was eroded during the pandemic and has witnessed many employees feeling a lack of identification and belonging to the workplace. A further reduction in time spent at work may contribute to this drift.
Based on the results of a poll that is conducted in March 2020, Gallup concluded that while individuals working four-day weeks reported lower levels of burnout and higher levels of well-being compared to people working five- or six-day weeks, the percentage of actively disengaged workers was lowest among those who worked five-day weeks. Gallup found that for employee engagement, the quality of the work experience was more important than the number of days worked. Simply shortening the workweek is not enough!
In addition, it may not be possible to increase productivity enough in service or logistics jobs to achieve the same results in fewer hours just by working smarter. There’s a physical limit to how many items warehouse employees can pick per hour or how many delivery locations a driver can hit in a day. For jobs that rely on service, this culture may not allow one to be away from their duties for 3 straight days. Imagine the impact – customer complaints, product delivery timelines, issuance of insurance policies, catering to medical needs, banking activities that will be hampered due to these industries working 4 days or due to the workforce now not having the flexibility in work hours to manage these tasks.
Also, one has to be mindful of the fact that most countries that have implemented the 4-day work week are developed economies, a developing one like ours may find it difficult to sustain this – where most Small and Mid-size, family businesses struggle with just running their businesses profitably. What about the huge daily wage laborers who live a hand-to-mouth existence? Losing 3 days’ pay will have a huge impact without government support.
I think the 4-day week should be an individual organization decision rather than a general law. For those who can sustain this from a business and commercial sustainability perspective, it makes all sense to move into a 4-day workweek. But if it doesn’t make sense enforcing this law may be detrimental to their survival and growth.
The re-evaluation of work forced upon the world by the COVID-19 pandemic has driven increased interest in the idea of a four-day workweek. But making it the new normal will require making a cultural and mindset shift. Those of us who think that a mere crunch to the week will give the results will witness a flipside on employees’ stress levels, wellbeing, retention, and productivity.
- A Guide to Implementing the 4-Day Workweek – https://hbr.org/2021/09/a-guide-to implementing-the-4-day-workweek
- The Impact of Working a 4-Day Week – https://www.investopedia.com/the-impact-of working-a-4-day-week-5203640
- Is the 4 Day Work Week a Good Idea? – https://www.gallup.com/workplace/354596/4-day work-week-good-idea.aspx
- A four-day workweek: is it worth it? – https://www.breathehr.com/en gb/blog/topic/employee-performance/the-four-day-work-week-productive-or-pointless • The Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Working Week –