Four-day week work: The future of work?

The five-day, 40-hour workweek has been the conventional practice in business essentially since its inception by Henry Ford in 1926. But a recent Microsoft pilot program challenging that convention has signaled that when done right, the four-day workweek can yield great benefits for the company, community and individual alike

Last year in August, Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek, keeping its doors closed on Fridays and giving employees the day off. To condense the workweek, employees were encouraged to scrap meetings and instead communicate by in-office messaging. Meetings that were deemed too important to be scrapped were capped at 30 minutes. After a month, the firm reported a roughly 40 percent increase in productivity, compared to August 2018. And news of the experiment went viral.

“The sample size is small and the jury is still out in terms of the four-day workweek’s success, but there’s no denying that the Microsoft experiment makes a statement”, says J. Gerald Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

“Part of the significance is that it’s a well-known company that has a global reach, and it could signal to other corporations to follow,” Suarez says. “I think that Microsoft has the potential of becoming an influencer and is showing other companies that this could be the way to go.”

Taking cues from the changing trend, Finland’s newly elected Prime Minister Sanna Marin has also introduced a proposal in the Finnish parliament reducing the time people spend at their workplaces. The proposal received mixed views from all parts of the words.

With the new generation stepping into the workplace and employees losing out on family time due to work, the four-day work concept has slowly been catching up the pace. The four-day work program was first implemented in New Zealand in 2018 by Perpetual Guardian. The company’s founder Andrew Barnes announced a 20% gain in productivity and a 45% increase in work-life balance.

Andrew also published a book in January 2020 called The 4 Day Week. The book has “its emphasis on productivity, the 4 Day Week tackles hard issues facing our world, for example stress and the breakdown in mental health, gender equality in pay and the environmental crisis. Four-day weeks offer significant societal benefits from the relief of congested highways and public transport systems, reduction in healthcare costs, through to more harmonious families and more purposeful lives.”

But what are the pros and cons of this program?

While the employees will definitely get the positive benefits of the system, employers are not very keen on adapting this to their organization. Some are even skeptical about the increasing costs of the company. Surely there will be a rise in employee productivity as employees would now be more encouraged to complete their tasks in the limited time they have. Employees will also be less burdened and there will be a reduction in stress level, creating a healthy and energetic environment at the workplace. But employers will feel the heat of this model. Suppose if a company has its stores open 7 days a week, then it will have to hire another set of employees who will make up for the days when other employees will be at their homes. This will increase the cost of the company and also increase the task of HR, who will now have to deal with an increased number of employees.

The four day work week program is still in its concept form. Debates and experiments with the model will continue to happen as long as there is no final result achieved. But the GenZ is already looking forward to such a flexible work environment, and this has certainly increased their expectations from the employers. Another hurdle the concept faces is from company owners who are advocating for the “996” work program, where employees are expected to work for 12-hours a day, 6 days a week. Alibaba founder Jack Ma has openly expressed his desire to implement such a work schedule in his company.

With such experiments in work culture taking place every now and then, it’ll be a treat to see which program creates a balance between the employee experience and employer desires. Often it happens that a brilliant work culture model doesn’t find its way behind the closed doors of big corporations. But with such heavy investments being made in work culture experiments, we can hope for the best program to come out on top.

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