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Saying Yes to a Shorter Workweek

Has the pandemic taught us more about work-life balance than anything else ever did? Not just employees, but employers too hop onboard a productive, shorter workweek in what could possibly be a giant leap away from the ‘grind’.

Photo by Manasvita S / Unsplash

Three years ago, if someone thought of skipping Friday at the office, or choosing a digital nomad route as their default work style, people would gape, sigh, and exclaim! These reactions were never meant in awe — How does work sans-office look like? It was, to say the least, unimaginable. Freelancing was not as big a rage as it became in the pandemic-era boost that LinkedIn posts and the like brought upon it. The norm was to fixate yourself over a 9-5 timespan and get back home to carry-overs from the day’s tasks. If you received calls after 5, you would still pick it up because that ring ‘mattered’.

People had normalized the grind over the rest; the hustle over life.

But, the pandemic taught us to stop, take a step back, and at least breathe, if not reflect. And we did that because there was no other choice. The workspace became flexible. You could work from home and the system figured out better, humane ways to optimize performance and drive results. Companies like Headspace soon caught up with the need to offer their mindfulness services to other organizations that felt the importance of safeguarding the mental health of their employees.

This is not to conclude that challenges have all been eliminated. There continues to be pressure — the added element of micro-managing and surveillance have become a beloved tool to higher-ups who are trying hard to stay relevant.

Now, the picture is changing again.

The Four-Day Workweek

A six-month-long trial of the four-day workweek in Britain showed impressive results for anyone who’d been hoping for more days to relax. Of the sample of over 60 companies, 92% have chosen to retain the new practice. The reason? Shorter workweeks have helped increase productivity — a boon for employers — and improve work-life balance — an attractive perk for employees.

The resurfaced idea of a four-day workweek was pushed by research that Autonomy worked on - the organization focuses on "the future of work, welfare, sustainable jobs, and just, green transitions.” The benefits are, as they describe, multi-fold. If you take a look at Autonomy’s overview of the study, it does state how the four-day workweek can vary in structure depending on each country’s niche and requirements. So, this isn’t necessarily the Friday-off or a long weekend that one might have imagined initially: “a range of four-day weeks were … developed, from classic ‘Friday off’ models, to ‘staggered’, ‘decentralised’, ‘annualised’, and ‘conditional’ structures.” But the shorter workweek does not mean that your pay would bear the brunt of a new structure. With just 80% of the usual working hours, you can get 100% of the pay and also ensure 100% productivity — this 80-100-100 framework was enticing enough for companies to actually stick to it. An energized workforce, after all, is deemed optimal.

Thought Before the ‘Yes’

Does this policy mean that employees will choose to forgo pay raises — if offered — in favor of a four-day workweek? Only 15% of the participant sample said they would. As much as we’re lauding the move toward lesser days spent at work, it shouldn’t become a justification for corporate lay-offs or pay cuts in the long run. All the talk about companies realizing they’ve been housing multiple competitive teams for the same end goal (and therefore letting off the ‘excess’) is constructed to show that employee efficacy has faltered. In reality, it is the lack of an efficient hiring process that needs to be highlighted here — why was anticipatory thinking not at the core of their decisions? When saying yes to the four-day workweek, these underlying narratives are what the employee needs to be wary of. The policy should also not come with a condition of endless targets and tight deadlines being crunched up to fit the shorter frame.

There is reason to think before we say yes to the four-day workweek. But, a pause should do. If the terms are in sync with your ask, why hesitate?

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