Crikey. The TUC has called for a shorter, 4 day working week. Did I go to bed last night and wake up in 1974?!! Surely this would be an unmitigated disaster for a small business?
But according to the accompanying TUC survey, 4 out of 5 people want to cut their working hours without loss of pay – people are feeling over-worked and taken advantage of.
Given the phenomenal advances in technology that are yielding businesses big financial gains, employees are feeling, not surprisingly, a little narked that they aren’t seeing much personal upside to these gains. In fact, what is often the case is that staff are expected to constantly be ‘on standby’ – checking emails and taking calls whilst on the commute, receiving work WhatsApp groups messages at midnight, etc etc. It has become the norm to be available 24/7.
But is being available 24/7 really ok? Because the net result, is staff are working longer and longer hours than ever before. And in many cases, the nation’s health is suffering. Stress and mental health related illness is on the rise, the NHS is stretched because of it, and life expectancy rates for the first time have begun to slow.
There has been a noticeable shift in societal expectations as well. People are increasingly looking for a better work life balance and quality of life. Being industrious at work is one thing, but in recent years, industriousness might have been confused with working oneself into the ground in the hope of professional advancement. And I think the tide might be turning.
A shorter working week might also bring broader societal benefits such as;
– A positive impact on gender inequality
– Help parents better balance childcare
– Improve our carbon footprint – think less commuter trips and less strain on utilities such as gas, oil and electric
– A healthier (less stressed) population, less likely to strain the NHS
– More time to spend with family, friends, neighbours and local community groups
– More time to spend volunteering
An innovative investment firm in New Zealand has recently trialled a 4-day week, to hugely successful effect, claiming measurable gains in:
– Increased staff productivity
– Increased staff satisfaction
– Decreased staff stress levels
– Increased life satisfaction
We know that staff satisfaction levels are directly linked to key performance indicators such as staff recruitment and retention and customer satisfaction, so this is a pretty compelling picture. And the obvious benefits of reduced stress levels are less absence days. Additionally, the shortened week, meant that staff were able to attend to home errands and commitments on their day off, meaning that they were less distracted when at work. It all sounds a bit too good to be true, does it not?!
There are of course the obvious downsides – not least that shorter working hours are less simple and compelling in the Service industries, such as care homes for example, that require 24-hour staffing. Clearly, there is going to be a cost implication as extra staff will be required.
Whatever your thoughts, this is an interesting and thought-provoking debate, that won’t be going away just yet! So now might be a good time to consider your working hours policy, and the broader strategic impact of a shorter working week on your business. There may well be an opportunity for your business to make some gains here.
I’m putting lunch dates in my diary next month with my key clients, to help them review their HR strategy. If you would like to discuss this over lunch with me, then drop me a line today at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can firm up a date.