4-day work weeks can only work for white-collar workers

Whether working from home or setting their own hours, more control over work schedules is one of the top demands for employees in today’s workforce. The much-hyped four-day work week seems like the ideal solution, but even proponents of the new model agree that while improving work-life balance should be a priority in every sector, the shorter work weeks may not necessarily apply to every worker.

Promising new research suggests that the four-day work week actually works. A six-month experiment in the US and Ireland model involving more than 900 employees ended in November last year. The nonprofit that organized the study, 4 Day Week Global, described it as a “resounding success in almost every dimension.” Of the 27 companies that responded, none reported that they would return to the five-day work week, with 18 immediately deciding to switch to the shortened week. The researchers also found that income and worker morale both increased during the experiment, while productivity remained constant.

The growing obsession with the four-day work week and the study’s findings took center stage at this week’s annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a whole panel discussion dedicated to discussing it on Thursday.

“The results are very encouraging,” Adam Grant, one of the panelists and an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, said of the study’s results. “They found that across the board, burnout stress and anxiety disappeared. Workflow actually increased, so people were working faster and more efficiently.

But while Grant and his fellow panelists largely agreed that four-day work weeks are a significant step forward for workplace flexibility for some employees, they pointed out that the model isn’t necessary. which is available to everyone, and currently may be limited to white-collar workers.

“This is more of a discussion for the upper class,” Karien van Gennip, minister of social affairs and employment in the Netherlands, said in the speech. He added that the constraints of a short work week could be a disadvantage in the service of workers and employees who rely on hourly wages.

A cure for burnout?

Today’s managers are faced with a growing problem of burnout among their employees. In the US, 43% of desk workers report feeling burned out at work, according to a study by Slack’s Future Forum in October last year. And the number of stressed workers only increases during the pandemic, with a Conference Board survey In May, it was found that 77% of US human resources leaders reported burnout among their staff that month compared to 42% in September 2020.

“We are quickly running into a burnout society,” Van Gennip said. In his native Netherlands, 40% of the need for help in public health care involves mental health issues, he said, adding that most of the patients’ problems revolve around burnout.

Flexibility should now be considered a “business imperative” in many workplaces, Sander van’t Noordende, CEO of the global HR consultancy firm Randstad, said the panel. Alternative models such as the four-day work week are options that companies should consider in order to retain their employees in the modern workplace, he said: “Talent is scarce, and you’re about to start with treat your talent as your customer.”

Different priorities

But while greater flexibility and options including four-day work weeks have become a priority for white-collar workplaces to retain talent, the same cannot be said for blue-collar workers. workers, many of whom have very different needs.

It is “harder to do a four-day work week in the service sector,” van Gennip said, adding that a mandated shorter work week would limit opportunities to earn more money. for service workers who are generally paid hourly.

In the US, 82.3 million workers are paid hourly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing 55% of the salaried workforce. For these employees, the priorities are very different than for white-collar workers, the panelists agreed.

“Scheduling is very important for low-wage, mostly female care workers, grocery stores, things like that,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of the UNI Global Union, a the international federation for service and trade unions, said during the discussion.

“We represent grocery store workers, for example,” he said. “They want more time, usually, but more importantly they want to know when they’re going to work next week. They want to plan their child care. They want to know when they can take their children to the doctor.”

While flexibility is important, the panelists argued, companies should start looking at other changes to improve employees’ work-life balance, including a “right to disconnect” for staff during non-working hours. For white-collar workers, Hoffman said, a big source of stress is at-home surveillance and monitoring protocols few companies are hiring for remote workers, while panelists agreed that more paid vacation time, which recently ranked in the U.S. second worst in the world in, be a more cross-sector solution.

The four-day work week has proven to work well in some scenarios, but panelists pointed out that there is no “one size fits all” solution to today’s workplace challenges, and the each company must decide what best suits their needs.

“There are many variations on this theme,” Hoffman said. “There’s a lot of difference. There is a huge range. We need to think about those 22% of the world’s workforce who do not work in a full-time job.

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