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Seven things for leaders to consider about the 4-day work week

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Considering a 4-day work week for your business?

The pandemic has changed how we work, with many seeking more flexibility and better work-life balance. One solution that has gained popularity is the four-day work week, and the results from the biggest-ever trial are in – and they're overwhelmingly positive.

Over 2,900 people took part in the six-month trial, which saw companies agree to give staff an extra day off with no cut to pay. From a local chippy to large corporations, companies across various industries participated, including an animation studio and digital banking.

The results speak for themselves. Almost every employer that took part decided to continue with the arrangement after the trial ended, with at least 56 of the 61 companies continuing and 18 making it a permanent change. Many more are considering doing the same.

For employers, implementing a four-day workweek involves a range of considerations, including creating a solid company culture, managing a successful hybrid team, dealing with non-linear working patterns, and managing the rising demand for a shorter workweek.

At TAB, we're working to help SME business owners think about the four-day workweek and if it could work for their business. This article will cover everything from how it works to seven critical considerations for business owners, including potential government movements in this area.

So let's get into the nitty gritty...

Results of the trial

The four-day workweek can have numerous benefits, including increased productivity, improved work-life balance, and reduced absenteeism. However, it's important to consider the potential challenges and how you address them carefully. This includes finding the right balance between workload and employee capacity, ensuring effective communication and collaboration, and managing the potential impact on client and customer relationships.

The trial results suggest that the four-day workweek is a viable and beneficial option for many businesses. By carefully considering the key considerations and implementing best practices, companies can successfully navigate the shift towards more flexible working arrangements and create a happier, more productive workforce.

How does a 4-day workweek work?

A 4-day work week is straightforward: it entails reducing the number of working days from five to four while maintaining the same level of employee pay and benefits. While there are variations, the former definition has been the most widely discussed in the media.

In October, Labour MP Peter Dowd proposed a bill in parliament that would give every British worker the legal right to a 4-day work week. However, not everyone is convinced of the potential benefits. Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope argued that such a policy would be equivalent to throwing a "hand grenade" into the economy.

Despite the varying opinions, the 4-day work week has gained traction as a viable option for companies looking to improve work-life balance and increase productivity. By compressing full-time hours into fewer days, employees can benefit from having an extra day off, while businesses can potentially see improvements in morale, retention rates, and overall efficiency.

Of course, implementing a 4-day work week is not without its challenges. Companies must consider workload management, scheduling, and communication to ensure a successful transition. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential impact on the economy and whether it could lead to decreased productivity or job losses.

As the debate continues, it's clear that the 4-day work week is not just a temporary trend but a concept that can potentially transform how we work. While there may be differing opinions on the best way to implement it, one thing is sure: it can create a more balanced and productive work culture for employees and businesses.

What are the advantages of a 4-day working week?

There are reasons why a 4-day working week could be a great advantage to your business.

Above all else, it will provide greater flexibility for your staff, leading to an improved work-life balance, higher morale, and better performance and productivity. 

TonerBuzz notes that 85% of companies in the US in 2022 that offer work-life balance programmes for their employees reported increased productivity. Not only that, but you'll see higher staff retention and improved company culture.

The disadvantages?

Yet, of course, the four-day week has disadvantages and challenges, like with many things. The obvious one, which we know first-hand through working with SME business owners, is how to get the same level of output from your staff out of fewer hours, especially with the added sting of paying them the same rate of wages.

Plus, depending on your business area, it can take time to manage client expectations as to when work will be done. This will put extra pressure on your team to ensure deadlines and resources are allocated effectively.

Given these disadvantages, it's essential to consider every aspect of the 4-day working week and their repercussions, and then weigh up whether the benefits will give you a good enough return.

Seven things for leaders to consider: 

1 The impact on productivity 

First, you must decide if the job roles can be fulfilled in four days. 

We recommend you spend time with your employees, discussing how they believe they could still deliver outputs to the same standard in four days. They may be more productive by having fewer hours. Plus, that open communication with your team leads to more positive working relationships.

2. The impact on staff

If the government moves similarly to other places in Europe, only some employees, who choose to, will be looking at a four-day work week. You, therefore, must consider the impact of this on the whole team.

How does this impact each person's workload? Can you implement this fairly and equitably across the business? What if you decide one role can't be done in four days – how will you manage any potential disgruntlement by some staff members?

We recommend being open and honest with your staff but also seeking the advice of other business owners. Your local Chamber, networking groups, or peer advisory board will provide you with some connections who have potentially already implemented this in their business.

3. Weighing up the gains with the losses

You must consider your potential return when deciding to go with the four-day workweek.

Firstly, financially. As is the proposed concept, will you offer the same pay for four days as five? And if so, what impact will that have on the overall financial health of your business?

Secondly, you must decide whether the gains in staff retention and improved recruitment are more significant than the potential drop in output.

Also, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it's estimated that it can cost businesses 6-9 months' worth of an employee's salary to replace them. Therefore, it is worth considering the cost of recruitment if you were to lose a member of staff on the grounds of a lack of flexibility. Of course, there are other things you could put in place, rather than the extreme of the four-day week, such as unlimited holiday, hybrid working, and non-linear working hours.

4. How to manage resources effectively 

Before deciding, ensure you and your team clearly understand resource management.

Not only will you have to manage the workload differently, but there needs to be extra coordination around who is available, where they'll be and at what times. This is important for your team and your customers – to ensure someone is always available to support them when they would normally expect it.

5. The effect on customers and clients

That leads us to our next consideration – your client base. As mentioned, you must ensure your client's needs are always covered. 

In meeting your staff's demands for flexibility, you must maintain sales and high customer service levels. This will only lead to customers going to your competitors, and we all know that customer loyalty is vital in today's market.

To tackle this, work closely with your staff to ensure every hour is covered and, should they need to change their hours, ensure they are aware of the critical things that must be catered for in their absence.

6. Measuring its success

Before you implement the four-day workweek, ensure clear objectives of what you're trying to achieve.

Schedule monthly reviews to see if it has the desired effect. This could be through regular staff surveys and open forums to evaluate its impact on their work-life balance, productivity, and general well-being. 

Also, monitor your bottom line and client satisfaction to ensure things like cash flow are manageable.

7. What do your staff want?

This is our most important piece of advice around the four-day workweek. While the concept is rooted in giving staff a better work-life balance and improved well-being, leaders need to be careful not to make assumptions about what their team want.

They might find their greatest fulfilment by being at work, for whatever reason, and therefore may want something other than a 4-day work week. Your staff may not agree, see the need, or even want the business to suffer because of such a change.

Therefore, determine whether your staff are happy with their working patterns, and make the tweaks necessary for them personally. Your flexible working policy already delivers enough for your staff to be happy.

Conclusion

We hope you've found this helpful as questions over the four-day week are likely to pop up in your workplace, the UK continues its pilot, and different working systems become more commonplace.

But, as a parting thought, despite all the advantages or disadvantages to flexible working for employers, if you continually keep in mind what your people genuinely want, you will go right.


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