More and more companies are implementing or testing the 4-day working week. However, what seems to be an employee’s dream come true may reduce the overall business performance. Can one shorten the working time without harming business?
The 4-day working week was tested at Microsoft’s Japanese branch in 2019 as part of the Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer project. The result of this experiment was the increase of employee performance by 40% and the reduction in the electric energy consumption by 23% in comparison with a similar period in the previous year.
Spain and Great Britain also tested the shorter working week. It has been successful in Iceland. In its report on innovation trends, the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development mentions that the shorter working time is one of the leading trends in modern economies.
The interest in the new model of work varies depending on the sector. For instance, people working in logistics or gastronomy, where such changes are impracticable, present a less optimistic approach to the working time reduction.
For and against – an entrepreneur’s perspective
What do employers think about such changes? Well, opinions vary. It is no wonder that managers fear the reduction in performance or the necessity to employ new people, which would mean higher costs. Although so far the trials of modified working time in various countries have resulted in increased employee effectiveness, it is hard to predict if that would be a long-term effect. On the other hand, a shorter working week would generate savings in terms of office/building utilisation.
When it comes to such a significant change, it will be very important to have an in-depth analysis of the company’s daily functioning. This means ongoing monitoring of processes as well as detection and immediate elimination of errors that cause delays. It will be particularly hard for production and industrial plants. The reason is that one can hardly expect from an employee working at the assembly line to do the job faster. However, it may turn out that it is possible to organise the work of the entire team more effectively without accelerating tasks which require time and precision.
Time is as precious as gold
It can be expected that enterprises will start by choosing a task performance model that does not require any team extension. They will strive to do the same work, but quicker. In order to increase the chance of success, they will need to pay special attention to the use of the working time, i.e. to how employees spend their time at work, where they are, whether they perform the assigned tasks and whether the number of breaks is sufficient.
This new work model may be a trap. It is not about exploiting your employees by making them work faster. Employees deserve to take their breaks, to rest, to have enough time for lunch. In terms of work time tracking, fairness is and will be a priority. That is why the employer will have to ensure that the employees actually do the job, e.g. by using task lists and schedules as well as by monitoring the work flow and the number of breaks taken. On the other hand, managers will need to make sure that each and every employee has sufficient time for rest. Technologies may help with that, e.g. the TIMATE system.
The optimised use of resources is crucial in a well-organised and efficient enterprise. To function smoothly, a company needs to monitor its employees and check whether they meet the job position standards, whether there is no downtime that could be avoided and whether there is no work overload anywhere. Especially when a company wants to shorten the working hours and keep its efficiency at the same time.
Safety is a priority.
Production businesses will find it hard to make their work faster. In such cases, one should take a closer look at the processes and the organisation of the teams’ work. It may be that due to the work flow optimisation teams will gain more time to perform their tasks.
Let’s imagine a factory which has a problem with the shortage of its crucial equipment, e.g. machines, forklifts or diagnostic devices. Employees who work there are simply unable to perform their duties effectively, because they have to wait until the tool they need becomes available. In other cases, they may wait for other teams to complete their work or cover excessive distances between various halls and workstations. What is the result? They waste their time instead of working effectively and without downtime, but that is not their fault. And their boss is losing money fast. A well-organised process, where the work flows smoothly, means better and quicker results. And what is more, it makes employees happy.
When it comes to blue-collar workers, safety at work is a priority. Let us bear in mind that safety may be compromised, when scaffold workers or machine operators are required to do their job faster. That is why employers will have to ensure that the personal protective equipment is always used. It would also be helpful to implement tools that enable accident alerts or an immediate call for help by people who have been injured.
More on the shoulders of leaders
Such extensive changes in the work organisation require the engagement of effective leaders. Companies will not be able to afford to employ random people as managers. For a team to tap its full potential, it must be adequately motivated. It can be expected that with time the vision of a 3-day weekend will lose its power to encourage employees to work more effectively. That will be the task of the leaders.
To select good leaders, one has to observe and evaluate the work of managers and of those managers’ teams. However, this assessment should take place at shorter intervals than quarterly or annually. Modern tools such as TIMATE allow to obtain current data regarding the work of individuals and teams and then to use such data for the purpose of assessment. As a result, it is much easier to choose leaders who can be efficient managers and motivators.
The widespread adoption of the 4-day working week seems more and more probable. Companies that will ensure the optimisation of processes, employee safety and the efficient use of the working time, while implementing the shorter working week, will be able to maintain their performance level without a significant headcount increase.