With a tight talent market and rising cost of living, are work schedules where we should be focusing our efforts? We have already established that employees value flexibility and control over their time. But it could be that poor work design and lackluster execution of new work models are causing people to want more time away from work to offset intolerable workloads, toxic work environments and poor work habits. Might we be better served addressing these issues head on?
With opt-in flexible options, many more people may elect to work less than full time. This could create a “them and us” mentality as the workforce splits between those who are core employees and those that are contract/project workers. A four-day workweek could help mitigate this risk. It may also offset concerns around FOMOW (fear of missing out at work), which is driving some remote workers back into the office. FOMOW is not just about being out of the loop on water cooler gossip; one in four employees believe that reduced face-time can impact promotion and pay decisions. But the real gift of a shortened workweek is that it places a far greater focus on how leaders and workers can more effectively partner – helping them to work across temporal, digital and cultural boundaries.
Another consideration is the wider role that work plays in our society today, in terms of bringing structure to our lives, synchronicity in work/play time, and the symbiotic relationship of work with coffee shops, commuter trains, work spaces, etc. Today, preparing for work, going to work, supporting workers and their health, nutrition, commuting needs, etc is an industry around which society is arranged. If the move to a four-day workweek truly means we are working smarter, absorbing unproductive time, how would the additional time away from work be spent – greater consumption, greater learning – and what benefit that might bring to society as a whole? Organizations and governments have a responsibility for ensuring the continued employability of their populations – could additional leisure time help or hinder these efforts? We see crime rates go up when employment drops, and societal rifts widen when more people are below the poverty line. But is enough research being done on the impact of shorter workweeks on entrepreneurialism, innovation and civic engagement? Both government and corporate leaders are discussing these wider questions with pandemic lessons in mind. For example, how much can mental health issues in Gen Z be attributed to a lack of structure, more time at home, and less social connection during Covid? As we consider enterprise-wide or country-wide shifts in our work/life patterns, it is important to ensure we do not erode the fundamental pillars of society.