The four-day working week is one of several options that Indian corporate bodies are in the process of giving serious thought. As HR teams urge line managers to move away from timesheet-bound perceptions of performance to outcome-focused ones, workplace flexibility is the name of the game. In that sense, the four-day working week is more than an option; it’s an opportunity.
The mindset-shift that makes the four-day working week a real possibility
A healthcare emergency and consequent reassessment of perceptions have happened in many fields – none more than among HR leaders. There is now solid evidence that work getting done is what keeps businesses running; as opposed to employees spending endless hours in office buildings. The pandemic has already proved that some industries are more amenable to virtual work plans and teleworking to meet goals on projects. It is even possible to coordinate distributed teams so that they collectively achieve common or relayed goals even as they operate from various locations and time zones.
With the stage set for the future of work, the only question remains as to whether employers and their employees can emerge with a win-win if they implement the four-day working week.
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Encouraging possibilities and merits for the four-day working week abound
Flexible working arrangements have both quantitative and qualitative advantages for employers. But most of them are not immediately obvious until employers make bold changes to try them out. Some of the immediate advantages for the employees of the four-day working week are as follows:
1.Better work-life balance: Employees get more out of the time they spend working. At other times, they attend to personal and family matters, put in specified times for health and self-care, hobbies, and home improvement. This balance allows them to be better engaged with work while they clock in work hours and be less distracted by external demands.
2. Higher productivity: A trial month of 4-day working weeks conducted by Microsoft in Japan showed that productivity increased by 40%. This was in large part due to fewer hours being dedicated to long meetings. In addition, a good save of electricity consumption -23% – was also noted for the same time period. And the most staggering fact is that this was tried out in the year 2019, well before the pandemic forced this consideration upon office workers. It shows that work can get done efficiently and willingly in the world of work even if the number of hours at work is cut down.
3. Save the burnout: The work-from-anywhere or work-from-home wave that became stronger in 2020 caused people to fail from separating work and home life. Devices and technology are ever-present, and the temptation to answer one small message from a superior or client’s query soon turned into an impulse they could not let slide. Predictably, anxiety and burn-out mounted in an already troubled year. To counter this effect, the four-day working week proposal could not have come at a better time.
4. A buffer for re-skilling: The time for temporary workers, part-time workers, gig workers, and consultants is also now. Employers use the four-day working week to get the most done and let the teleworkers and freelancers take the edge off the weight of extra work. This accomplishes the projects on time and brings a wider talent pool into the purview of the farsighted business leader. Both employers and employees can use the time opportunity created by flexible working arrangements to learn more skills, cover skills gaps, and stay relevant to the changing needs of businesses.
5. Cost-benefit trade-off: For employers, the wins in cost-saving are much greater than those the employees enjoy. Reduced absenteeism ensures that work is better planned and finished. Examples from experiments in the United States show that absenteeism comes down by 9%. As long as the effects of the pandemic remain and businesses continue to look for ways to cut costs, the four-day working week reduces the need to go for salary cuts and job cuts. On this front, the proposed shorter workweek can enhance employee loyalty and better employer-employee relations in the world of work during a socio-economic crisis.
Factors to watch before implementing the four-day working week
- It is immediately obvious that not every industry and job family can onboard the four-day working week as part of the new normal. Manufacturing units, assembly lines, and relayed production environments are better suited to shift workers and staggered batches of workers keeping the tills moving. However, the four-day week is still possible and desirable to reduce social interaction and promote isolation from sick workers.
- Not all economies take to the four-day working week. Japan, the United States, New Zealand, and some European countries have tried out this model to see increased productivity and a jump in talent acquisition numbers.
- The flexibility that the future of work demands can be a four-day working week. It could also be location-independence, flexibility in worker contracts, or flexible benefits schemes. Evidence in the form of the Code on Social Security, 2020 as part of the four labor codes makes way for flexible workers, migrant workers, teleworkers, and employers seeking more flexibility with workers’ contracts.
- India, with its advantages as an emerging market, will do well to pick up on the global trend of hourly contracts, flexible working arrangements, and project-based contracts. In India, the cap on the number of working hours, governed by the occupational safety, health and working conditions code, 2020, allows workers to pay more attention to health. The Center also makes provisions for free medical check-ups for workers, further defraying costs for the employees and employers while ensuring welfare.
The four-day working week will take several rounds of deliberating to determine its suitability to each of the industries and working models in India. However, the process is already in the works. It can well be on its way to enhancing productivity and employee satisfaction figures even as it departs from existing workplace practices.
- Could the four-day week become the new normal? | World Economic Forum | James Walker and Rita Fotinha | January 15th, 2021
- 4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers’ Productivity By 40%, Microsoft Japan Says | NPR | Bill Chappell | November 2019
- The 4-Day Workweek: Has Its Time Come? | Forbes.com | Richard Eisenberg | February 6th, 2020
- The Phenomenon of the Four-Day Workweek | SHRM | Theresa Agovino | June 20th, 2020
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