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Is a four-day working week the answer to your employee wellbeing problems?

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Recent research conducted by Westfield Health has discovered that employees believe a four-day working week to be one of the most effective ways to improve wellbeing in the workplace. Could it work for your business?

31st May 2022
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Research conducted by Westfield Health has discovered that aside from flexible working – which was the most popular wellbeing initiative (39%) – a four-day working week (26%), hybrid working (26%), and more mental health support (20%) were in demand from employees to improve their wellbeing at work.

Recently, we have seen more discussions around businesses offering employees a four-day working week with no losses to pay.

There are two different approaches to the four-day work week: the ‘compressed’ work week means that employees work for 10 hours a day over four days a week, or, the second approach is a shorter working week, resulting in working hours being reduced to 32 hours over four days.

Below, we explore why employers should consider this new way of working and how businesses can ensure it works for their company and employees. 

The Pros

Studies previously conducted around a compressed four-day working week have shown that employees maintain the same productivity level, improvements in job satisfaction, teamwork, work/life balance and company loyalty.

Happier employees also mean less absenteeism, better employee retention and, as already mentioned, better productivity rates.

Having a long weekend allows people to spend more time with their friends and family and do things they enjoy, which improves their wellbeing.

Employees may also experience less stress with a compressed working week, as they have an improved work-life balance, allowing them to better manage their time between work and personal lives; nonetheless, it still needs to be well thought out prior to implementation.

As a shorter working week means parents and carers will have more time to manage responsibilities at home, employers may notice that a four-day week will help rebalance the workplace inequalities, especially gender inequality.

Our Wellbeing Trends report has noted that employees are more environmentally conscious now than before, with three-quarters of adults worrying about climate change.

With employees commuting to work one less day a week and workplaces being able to close for an additional day, condensing the working week can reduce a company’s carbon footprint, having a vast positive environmental impact.

This also means employees may feel more connected and motivated to work for a business in line with personal values. 

Shifting toward change

After a period where wellbeing and productivity have been put under severe pressure, teams and managers should work together to develop new approaches that suit them.

There may be teething issues when first implementing a shorter week, but with the correct planning and communication, it has the potential to vastly improve employee wellbeing.

While shifting towards changes within the business, it must be done authentically. The most engaged employees are those who are a good fit not only in terms of skills and experience, but also in their contribution to a company’s wider purpose; if it doesn’t suit your employees, it won’t fit your business – and vice versa.

Employers, therefore, should also remain flexible in their approach. A whole-of-population approach means introducing adaptable ways for employees to engage with their workplace while striving to provide equal access to support when considering changes to the business.

As some people may not be fond of the idea of a shorter week, plans to make this shift should be visible, varied and versatile – as a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ will not work.

There also needs to be strong two-way communication. With a lack of communication (40%) being the top reason why employees feel hostile toward changes in the workplace, employers will find out what works best for their people individually by ensuring there is two-way communication from employee to employer.

Teamwork amongst employees may initially be hard to manage, and some team members may struggle to manage their workload in four days.

Keeping communication open between the team, regular manager check-ins and setting daily schedules with frequent breaks will help keep collaboration at the forefront, ensuring that the extra day off does not cause any problems.

Not the only solution

Finally, a four-day week is just one solution. There are other options to improve workplace wellbeing, and increase productivity and employee engagement.

Policies such as mental health days and flexible leave for appointments are simple ways to empower people to look after their health and prioritise their personal life.

Businesses could also implement mental health first aiders to help provide a confidential avenue for employees to seek support, organise webinars and training to encourage conversations around wellbeing, and organise events to promote physical exercise, such as walking meetings.

A timely reminder of any health cash plan, wellbeing support or employee assistance programme (EAP) on offer may also help ease the burden.

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