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The 4-day work week has made plenty of headlines, but is it feasible? Well, it depends.
When the pandemic hit, people across the world saw how quickly their day-to-day work environments could change when forced to adapt practically overnight. This opened minds to the idea of a broader, more flexible workplace evolution.
Driven largely by that shared experience, today’s job market and social environment amplify the employee voice, creating a unique opportunity to make large-scale changes to the way we work.
In 1940, the United States Congress added an amendment to the Fair Labor Stands Act that mandated overtime pay for any workers who worked over 40 hours per week. In the 80 years since, the American workweek has remained largely unchanged, after shifting to 5-day workweeks from 6 in response to the 1920s labor movement. Productivity from a financial perspective has soared over the past century. In recent years, research has increasingly illuminated the downside of the American “hustle culture and its effect on the great resignation”.
Today, we’re in a workplace wellness crisis — Mercer’s 2022-2023 Global Talent Trends report illustrates the need for employers to deliver on total well-being with 23% of workers saying they want to scale back their hours. Investing in well-being not only helps employees feel better, but it can also increase returns for businesses — 36% of businesses saw a measurable return after investing in employee health and well-being.
With many employees now settled into hybrid and remote positions, it’s becoming clear that flexible work options alone don’t address wellness concerns in the workplace.
Hybrid and remote work come with their own set of challenges — employees are more likely to feel disconnected from their work and colleagues, and less likely to establish strong feelings of self-competency and workplace identity.
Companies will increasingly need to focus on new ways of engaging their workforce, and a shortened week offers a dramatically appealing retention factor by acknowledging the importance of life and identity outside of work.
The world’s largest trial of the 4-day work week, with 61 participating companies across the United Kingdom, saw great success from an employee wellness perspective. Companies were able to sustain productivity levels, and most participants are retaining some elements of the 4-day week post trial. Here in the United States, numerous states have passed or proposed bills that would support a 4-day workweek or offer fewer hours by shifting from a 40-hour week to a 32-hour week.
Implementing a shorter work week, like any large-scale change, requires significant attention from the business world and proper change management.
Companies cannot simply switch to a 4-day week overnight. In the 4-Day Week Global Trial, employees received coaching and change management support several weeks before making the transition. Businesses will need a strong understanding of employee mobility options, such as staggered staffing, to effectively transition to a shorter week without a loss in employee productivity.
This is why it’s important to understand what your employees really want.
Although a 4-day week has proven to appeal widely to employees across jobs and demographics, it doesn’t outweigh compensation. While workload, work-life balance, and mental health are all included in the top 5 employee concerns in Mercer’s 2022 Inside Employees’ Minds survey, covering expenses and being able to retire still top the list.
A Washington Post-Ipsos poll showed that 73% of employees are not willing to sacrifice pay for a shorter work week. However, 75% of workers would choose four 10-hour days over five 8-hour days.
While it’s important to understand large-scale market trends, at the end of the day, it’s your employees’ desires that shape your company culture. Mercer’s 2022-23 Global Talent Trends report highlights the rise of the “relatable organization” — rather than imposing values, these companies co-create a sense of purpose with their employees, adapting their morals to serve those of their people. Thriving employees are the key to success for any business.
The length of the work week may soon become a defining factor in the employee value proposition rather than an assumed 40 hours/5 days. While not an obvious component of the total rewards package, the amount of time we work is fundamental employee stress, employee satisfaction, and most importantly employee well-being (both mental and physical).
Just a few years ago, a candidate would be hard-pressed to find a job that offers remote or hybrid options for its workers. Today, job postings boast flexible work arrangements and highlight available accommodations, since candidates are placing increasing weight on an employer’s ability to support a holistically healthier and balanced lifestyle.
If a 4-day week did become largely adopted, companies looking to operate on a 5-day week are likely to lose out on talent. Already companies are being pressured by the market to bolster the benefits and levels of flexibility available.
At Mercer, we can help you uncover the wants and needs of your employees through our suite of employee listening tools. We offer surveys like the Mercer Rewards Optimizer, an unmet needs analysis, and an engagement snapshot survey.
If you need help understanding your employees or putting together the ideal total rewards package, call us directly at 855-286-5302 or email us at email@example.com to get started.