While the events of the pandemic created a number of new arguments, reckonings, and theories, one concept that was revisited for the umpteenth time was that of shorter working weeks. A reduction to four-day weeks or even five-hour days – sounds ideal, doesn’t it?
While it might be the perfect solution for employees who have found their free time almost vanish, what impact would it have on businesses?
The pre-lockdown situation
Before the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns you’d have thought yourself delusional to even consider that working from home would be the norm and face-to-face meetings would be virtually made extinct, ironically by these new, virtual technologies.
Flexitime, a lack meetings in the boardroom, and none of that crucial office environment that inevitably fuels creativity and innovation – it’s surely a given that it will fail?
Well, not necessarily. Think of the standard 9-5 in an office space. How much of those eight hours is filled with casual chit-chat? CEO of American transport business, Diamondback, Ben Eltz, noted: “Very rarely does a person say, ‘I got my work done—now I’m going to go see how else I can help.’”
Take this into consideration how much time is spent milling around the coffee machine? And, perhaps most importantly, how productive is the average employee in the post-lunch lull?
Despite the fact your staff are there for eight hours, it doesn’t mean they are working. The question is, however: can business owners really give the go-ahead for shorter working weeks, what impact will it have on their operations, and will their buyers and customers choose to jump ship if they do?
In this blog, we take a look at whether or not your business can give employees a reduction in hours and still win essential private and public sector contracts.
Microsoft Japan, in 2019, tested a shorter working week programme titled “Work-Life Choice Challenge” in which it gave 2,300 of their employees the opportunity to adopt flexible working patterns that, as you’ve probably guessed, improved their work-life balance.
What Microsoft wanted to see was how a reduction in hours would impact the business in terms of output and staff morale. The results of the experiment were just as they hoped – employee satisfaction went up as did productivity, by 40%.
This isn’t just a view that’s held by individual businesses – 85% of workers in Iceland have the option of cutting their number of days down to four. The decision taken by the Icelandic government has been hailed as an “overwhelming success.” Much like Microsoft in Japan, Iceland has witnessed an improvement in both productivity and wellbeing.
But is now really the right time?
Here in the UK, tradition suggests, “if it ain’t broke, then why fix it?” However, there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the current working week model is littered with problems and these issues were exaggerated by the pandemic.
Home schooling meant that parents were forced either to surrender their jobs or struggle to multi-task, with women significantly more severely disadvantaged than men, while remote working created a breakdown in the much-needed barriers that exist between home and professional life.
It should come as no surprise that burnout become a major issue among British workers during the past two years.
Fig. 1 shows the rise in stress-related search terms over the course of the past four years here in the UK.
In 2021, more than 822,000 Brits were reported to be suffering from work related stress according to statistics from HSE – which translates to 25% of all work-related illnesses over the course of the calendar year.
But how do businesses tackle burnout?
Of course, employers in the UK are working tirelessly to find an appropriate solution to staff burnout. Reviews of HR policies are taking place across the country, there has been a considerable rise in the number of ‘people’-orientated roles being offered, support is being more actively signposted, and honest conversations are being encouraged but developing a better work-life balance is undoubtedly crucial to the fight against burnout.
Since the pandemic struck and many of us were granted the remote working option, it has become considerably more difficult for employees to separate their life from their work, something largely caused by the double-edged sword that is new technologies. ‘Always on’ is a term continually thrown around without little exploration but it’s particularly important when it comes to this balance – how can you switch off when you have the ability to reply to an email at any time from anywhere? And with this ability comes expectation, and what was once only for times of crisis quickly becomes the norm.
Slashing the working week or the hours spent in the office does appear to be a solution then, but the question is still there ‒ how do business owners justify to their buyers and customers that they shut up shop at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon?
Reliable partners and satisfied employees
At present, only one-third of business are accepting day one requests for flexible working despite the fact that more than three in five believe they should be facilitating it.
Think of it this way – perhaps the best way to reassure your customers of your uninterrupted ability to service their needs is by highlighting your investment in your staff by allowing measures to be introduced such as the shorter working week.
Rather than having to explain to buyers that you can’t fulfil contracts because you’ve got staff working four days rather than five, if you don’t offer these options, you may find yourself struggling to explain why you’ve not fulfilled orders as employee (dis)satisfaction has caused a number of walkouts…
Here, we’ve discussed the ways in which you can maintain a contract satisfy client demands – but, what about actually winning these essential contracts in the first place? Well, here at Tracker, that’s exactly what we do. We help businesses like yours on their way to becoming the next public sector supplier, assisting with early engagement, expert advice, tender alerts, and support along the way.
If you want to find out more, book a free trial today!