Darren Hockley, Managing Director of eLearning provider, DeltaNet International, reflects on a 4 day working week
You may have seen in recent news that, as of December 2020, multinational consumer goods giant, Unilever, will trial a 4-day working week for its New Zealand employees.
Whilst Unilever New Zealand’s Managing Director, Nick Bangs, had made clear that the 12-month trial is ‘very much an experiment’ one can’t help but agree with his suggestion that ‘we think there will be some good learning we can gather in this time’. After all, if the trial is deemed a success and Unilever does choose to roll out the four-day working week across its global business, it will be the largest company to have done so to date – marking a massive progression for the concept.
The news comes at an interesting time, when, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, so many businesses have already undergone an abrupt shift to remote working starting earlier this year.
Off the back off necessity, however, has come change, since the remote working experiment has been largely successful (and many companies are pledging to switch to more flexible working-from-home practices even after the crisis is contained).
It seems there’s certainly a desire from the modern workforce to keep on challenging traditional ideas about what our working week looks like in 2021 and beyond.
What happens when we work less days?
Seemingly counterintuitive, the most-touted benefit of giving employees an extra day off is increased productivity, with some trials reporting increases of around 20%.
The rise could be down to numerous aspects, with employees involved in previous trials reporting increased focus on tasks, refined work processes (yes, less unnecessary meetings!), and – of course – the added benefit of reduced stress from juggling work and home life, as contributing factors.
Naturally, with less time in the office to utilise, skills such as organisation, problem-solving, and prioritisation really come into their own here, so it’s possible you will attract a more driven and self-sufficient workforce if working less days.
Speaking of reduced stress, it does indeed feature high on the list of benefits employees report feeling when working a 4-day week – and not simply because it allows for more time spent relaxing.
Reduced commuting time, more time to spend with family, and an additional day to complete errands, e.g., food shopping, house cleaning, and laundry duties, all mean that those who are gainfully employed aren’t spinning quite so many plates trying to balance work time with life‘s other demands.
This has led to employees reporting that they feel more creative, with many picking up a new hobby or pastime, and some even using the extra time to further their education and training. As we know, learning promotes wellbeing; it increases our self-esteem and feelings of hope and purpose along with it – all things which spell good news for employers and employees alike.
Moreover, research on the Gender Pay Gap from the Government Equalities Office shows that around two million of us in Britain are not employed due to childcare responsibilities – and shockingly almost 90% of these people are women.
It makes sense, then, to say that a 4-day working week would help reduce some of the stress of family life/parenthood and promote a more equal workforce for both men and women.
Whilst it might seem strange that spending less time with colleagues actually means a healthier workplace culture, it really does seem that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Again, reports from previous 4-day trials indicate teams reporting feeling happier, friendlier, and more satisfied all round, with employees logging less sick hours, HR dealing with less staff turnaround, and customer facing teams describing better engagement with one another as well as customers.
This isn’t the first time the 4-day working week has made headlines. Indeed, the buzz around a shorter week surfaced earlier this year with many outlets also signing off on the progressive concept as it leads to happier and more committed employees.
It’s no doubt this evidence that had driven such a large company as Unilever to take the plunge and it will be interesting to observe the results they achieve over the next 12-months.
Of course, the biggest concern for company leaders implementing a 4-day week is ensuring that complacency doesn’t take hold once the novelty wears off. It will be important, I think, for all companies thinking about working less hours to spend time planning and sharpening-up processes to ensure productivity is maintained – even improved-upon – long-term.
Unavoidably, new changes will encounter some bumps in the road along the way, but I look forward to seeing Unilever take on the challenge.
Darren Hockley is Managing Director of eLearning provider, DeltaNet International. The company specialises in the development of engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses, as well as tailored training solutions, designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance.