Wednesday 15, August 2018 by Jessica Combes

Is the five-day work week (finally) on its way out?


In mid-July New Zealand trust management firm Perpetual Guardian was the latest company to trial shorter working hours, announcing that their trial of having a four-day work week was an ‘unmitigated success’.

Perpetual Guardian has concluded the trial of working four, eight-hour days over March and April but getting paid for five was an unmitigated success, with 78 per cent of employees feeling they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance, an increase of 24 percentage points, according to The Guardian.

Closer to home disruption and stress had the highest negative impact on employees’ level of satisfaction with their work environment, according to The Engagement and The Global Workplace survey compiled by market research firm IPSOS in partnership with office furniture firm Steelcase Inc. Meanwhile, independent studies by international health insurance provider, Bupa Global and Oman Insurance, suggest that 89 per cent of people surveyed in the UAE think they could be leading a healthier life, with half those people saying work gets in the way of a healthy life.

In 2016 I spoke to Karim Idilby, General Manager, Bupa Global Middle East for FinanceME about the importance of creating a wellness agenda for companies in the Middle East, who stressed its importance, so people can control their own wellbeing while at work, rather than seeing them as two separate issues.

Companies view implementing wellness programmes as a cost which require allocation of resources, which Idilby said is a cost that is already being incurred, through absenteeism, reduced productivity, and lack of retention because people might be burned out from stress. Bupa Global’s studies estimate that less satisfied employees tend to call in sick an average of 1.25 more days a month, or 15 days more per year. It stands to reason that employees will call in sick less often when they have the time to take better care of themselves.

“Well-being encompasses everything: the nutritional, the mental, the psychological, and physical states of a person. It needs to be put on the agenda because it is as important as any other expense on the profit and loss (P&L) statement. It could cost nothing, and managers could still implement an agenda,” said Idilby.

During the Perpetual Guardian trial staff stress levels decreased by seven percentage points across the board as a result of the trial, while stimulation, commitment and a sense of empowerment at work all improved significantly, with overall life satisfaction increasing by five percentage points.

Helen Delaney, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, said employees’ motivation and commitment to work increased because they were included in the planning of the experiment, and played a key role in designing how the four-day week would be managed so as not to negatively impact productivity, reported the Guardian. “Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner, from automating manual processes to reducing or eliminating non-work-related internet usage.”

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes is reported to have said he would take the results of the trial to the board and discuss how a four-day work week could be implemented long-term in his company.

In a time when salaries are not seeing the same increases of days gone by, offering an employee a shorter working week in lieu of more money is actually a valuable compromise. Speaking to someone who spent a few years in a smaller firm in London, she said her company had worried that she would resign when they told her they couldn’t pay her an increase. She asked the company to pay her the same salary but to give her Fridays off, which they did. She was able to use that extra day run errands which actually freed up weekends for time with her family.

For parents, this kind of arrangement would help dramatically – they would have the chance to be more active in their children’s education and be able to meet teachers for those much-needed discussions. Assisting with homework can become a reality and families can have quality time together.

Making doctor’s appointments would no longer be more trying than peace negotiations for those who are gainfully employed— “I’m sorry, the paediatrician is only available on Monday to Thursday from 10am to 1pm”—and errands can be done more efficiently without eating into valuable family time.

The nine-to-five model isn’t dying; it’s dead. Companies need to realise that innovating doesn’t stop at automated systems and digitisation—they need to innovate their offerings to prioritise their employees’ well-being or risking losing their best talent to a growing number of businesses who are willing to offer more flexible solutions.

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