The four day week might be the wellbeing solution workers need

Mental health and four day weekIt’s been a couple of months now since 70 companies in Britain began their four day week pilot program, where thousands of employees went from celebrating the Queen’s 70th Jubilee to celebrating shorter work weeks without reduction in pay for the remainder of 2022. The pilot had been highly anticipated by workers and employers alike – and has already seen tremendous results — but it’s also created a heated debate on whether it’s actually workable across industries, demographics, and different sized companies.

After the pandemic and subsequent move to more remote work, we know that people don’t want to go back to the offices in the same way they were working before. COVID has changed how, when, and where we work – and for white-collar workers in particular, it’s clear that returning to “normal” is no longer in the cards.

A recent survey by the Adecco Group titled Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work found that flexibility in schedule and work location is not simply a “nice-to-have” for workers any more, but rather an expectation. For industries and companies struggling with the aftermath of the Great Re-Evaluation, the four-day work week could be the answer to the plague of burnout that’s impacted millions of workers.

According to the “Resetting Normal” report, workers have experienced a number of positive effects of flexible schedules. For example, 63 percent of respondents said their digital and remote working skills got better; 50 percent said their work/life balance had improved; 47 percent said their time-management had got better; and 39 percent reported an improvement in how much they felt they were trusted to get the job done.

However, across many industries and companies, management did not adjust to the changing needs of the workers and the wider work landscape fast enough. The study found that more than half of young leaders (54 percent) in the US reported that they were suffering from burnout while 3 in 10 said their mental and physical health has declined in the last 12 months. It also highlighted the fact that two-thirds of workers were working more than 40 hours a week – often without additional pay given their salaried roles. And by the time leaders recognized the magnitude of these issues, their workers were already looking for new positions and job opportunities with companies that could better meet their new expectations for work.

One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that 73 percent of global workers say companies should measure performance based on results rather than hours worked. The four-day work week could be the solution to this greater paradigm shift. But how can leaders gauge the success of this pilot?

For sure, leaders will be watching the usual indicators of success like productivity levels and revenue generated for the 70 companies in this program; but they should also look beyond those standard measurements. Job satisfaction, overall mental and physical wellness, employee retention and rates of burnout are essential success indicators of the impact of the four-day work week. Those key indicators should not just be something we are looking for from the employees of these companies but also the leadership.

Too often overlooked is that many managers themselves are struggling with burnout right now, and it’s difficult to make some of the cultural shifts that need to be made to attract and retain talent when leaders are burned out too. When considering new or improved wellness initiatives to retain great talent, it’s important to leaders and all levels of employees reap the benefits.

The four-day work week has the potential to provide higher-ups with the time off they need to recoup and re-energize, so they can create a positive workplace culture for employees.

For those concerned about how companies in different countries will fare with the change to a shorter work week, there are additional trials being held in Spain and Scotland later this year. Additionally, the longest four-day work week pilot that Iceland held between 2015 and 2019 supports the thesis that a shorter week promotes overall employee happiness and increased productivity.

But why should executives care about their employees’ overall wellbeing if their bottom line is healthy? Because it could ultimately even further improve their company’s productivity. A study by Oxford University found that happy workers are 13 percent more productive. Refusing to adapt to the new reality of the workplace might allow companies to succeed short term but adopting the future of work will further their ability to grow down the line.

It’s clear that this latest pilot could have lasting ramifications on whether companies in every sector and across many countries adopt shorter work weeks and generally change their culture. No matter how significant the results end up being though, the expectations of workers have already shifted, and companies must follow suit if they want to attract and maintain talent. People are looking for jobs that provide them with both flexibility and fulfilment. And of course, competitive salary remains essential. But in the fight against burnout, a four day week that allows people to have more work-life balance and find fulfilment both in their jobs and their daily lives could help everyone win.