Microsoft Japan and New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian broke headlines last year in their implementation of the four-day workweek and claiming improvements in employee productivity and work-life balance. The shorter workweek arrangement is no recent breakthrough, but the ever-evolving nature of work might be shaping up to make three days off the new norm.
For HR leaders trying to curb employee turnover and boost engagement, the four-day workweek may just be the right strategy.
Shorter hours, better results
The results have been positive so far: both Microsoft Japan and Perpetual Guardian found tangible improvements, and not just in productivity.
With one less day in the office, Microsoft Japan’s electricity use went down by 23% and employees cut down their paper use by more than half. To maximize the shorter hours, meetings were cut down to half of the usual one hour, and the number of people inside those meetings was capped to five.
“We are working to increase productivity and creativity by reforming the manner of internal meetings and email communications where employees spend a lot of time,” the tech giant stated in its blog post.
Perpetual Guardian reported a 7% improvement in staff stress levels and an overall improvement in employee satisfaction and work-life balance. After the success of their trial, the trust firm made the four-day workweek a permanent policy. Its founder Andrew Barnes found out that the staff actually got more done with the shorter hours they were given, sacrificing no productivity for the company.
“There’s no downside for us,” Barnes said.
The fading charm of traditional working hours
In notoriously overworking cultures such as those in Asia, implementing the shortened work week sounds like a huge shift in attitude. But when you count in the looming skills gap, then it’s time to think outside the box. Studies are aplenty on how overworking can be significantly harmful, both to the employee and the organization. Employee burnout, a dip in satisfaction, and the eventual turnover become increasingly common the more employees are overworked.
Other studies also point out that not all employees actually utilize the 8-hour shift. One survey stated that only 1 in 5 employees feel like they are productive the whole time inside the office. The average time that employees spent working was less than 3 hours.
Flexibility is feasible
The good news is if your organization finds the four-day workweek too radical, there are other strategies for you to explore.
The appeal of the shortened workweek can be attributed to the increasing demand for flexibility. Millennials favor it out of any perks, some even more than higher pay. A report by LinkedIn found that more than half of “professionals are proudest to work at companies that promote work-life balance and flexibility.”
Innovations in the business landscape are ready to facilitate employee flexibility. This is evident in the rise of remote employees, co-working spaces, and the gig economy. Modern technology has enabled people to work outside the office, for better or worse.
It’s undeniable — the way we work has changed drastically. The efficiency that digital transformation brought to businesses translated to an upward trend in productivity, leaving workplaces with more room to be flexible. And in a time where employee engagement is the HR zeitgeist, it’s a welcome change.