I remember back in grade school when we were told that in the future because machines would do so much of the work, the workforce would likely only be working four days per week. When I actually joined the world of work, the prospect of a four-day work week seemed like a remote possibility. Now, not only is it a possibility for many workers, but for a growing number of employees, reduced work time is a probability. For this Herman Trend Alert, I interviewed Thomas Michael Hogg, Tony Carnesi and Brian Gorman – all proponents of the four-day work week.
A Symbol of Life/Work Balance
To all three colleagues, the four-day work week was more a symbol, than a reality. To them, it has more to do with striking the right life/work balance than actually having people work at their jobs four days a week. And please notice that I stated, life/work balance, not work/life balance, because, especially for the younger generations, life comes first.
The United States’ Business Model versus Elsewhere
Hogg, who is located in Monterrey, Mexico, is not very impressed with the total rewards packages offered by most employers in the U.S., including those in Silicon Valley. Benefits packages in the U.S. compare only with those he sees in Mexico and other Third World Countries. From the amount of time off to the lack of childcare and the expense of healthcare, the employer offerings from U.S. employers simply do not compare favorably to those in Europe and other places around the world. For instance, in Germany, many employers have implemented the four-day work week, including flextime and lots of time off. In general, people there are more protected and have more benefits. It is a more integrated, holistic model that considers the “tremendous value” realized when employees feel well taken care of. Hogg shared that when he worked at Adidas, his leaders sent him home at end of their workday, encouraging him to have a life.
Redefining the Work Week
Carnesi and Gorman take a slightly different approach. They hold that working four 10-hour days might not be a great idea, because the longer days can have a negative effect on innovative thinking, quality and productivity in the workplace. With the ubiquitous nature of smart phones and other technologies that keep us connected to work 24/7, many of us are working more than a 40-hour work week. “Mr. Do and Mr. Be,” as they call themselves, maintain that implementing the program is a matter of finding what works for each employee – one size does not fit all.
Microsoft tried it in Japan with Great Results
In 2019, before the Pandemic, Microsoft conducted an experiment in Japan. Every Friday, they closed their offices. More than 90 percent of their 2,280 employees enjoyed Fridays off. Though employees’ work time was reduced by 20 percent, their productivity increased by 40 percent! The results achieved by Microsoft were only one of many experiments focused on diminishing the number of hours that workers spent at work. Other studies have consistently found business benefits from a shorter work week as well.
A Holistic Approach to Creating Life/Work Balance
All three consultants believe that each company needs to find the right balance for itself and its people. Implementing this approach will not only result in higher productivity, but also happier, dare we say, more loyal employees as well. Whether people take off two afternoons a week or choose to work from home for part of their worktime, or choose to work four days per week, the flexibility of the employer pays handsome rewards. What is important is that the employees feel listened to and taken care of.
What the Future Holds for the Four-Day Work Week
With 15 million job openings in the U.S. alone, the labor market is going to become increasingly competitive. This concept of flexible work will pay handsome dividends to those employers that are smart enough to embrace it. Carnesi and Gorman will soon begin offering a program for employers that want to implement these smart practices. To really adopt this concept will take openness and empathy. Like Hogg’s bosses who sent him home, he believes, “We can only build a better next generation when we share our wisdom and experience.”
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