Despite the widespread enthusiasm for a four-day week, it is not convincing enough for India that such a schedule is beneficial for employees or businesses.
(By James Thomas)
Who does not love a shorter work week? Many employers and employees enjoy the thought of a four-day work week. Logically, a four-day work schedule allows workers extra time to pursue leisure activities and their hobbies. In fact, the concept of a four day work week has been around for quite some time, though it came into the limelight in recent times. Companies across the globe began adopting this system of work through which they could cut down rising real estate and rent prices while offering flexibility to their employees. Gradually, this movement took a turn in increasing the efficiency of the worker and the company as a whole. Given this meteoric rise, it has taken the stage at the recent World Economic Forum, where CEOs were in talks with policy makers, sociologists and
psychologists to make this a reality.
With such discussions in play, it is pertinent to give a quick thought to India’s perspective on this development. According to a global survey of nearly 3,000 employees across eight countries conducted by Kronos Incorporated in 2018, India leads the way as the hardest working country with 69 per cent of full-time employees saying they would work five days a week even if they had the option to work fewer days for the same pay. This puts in perspective the countries that are predominantly termed hardworking. Though there are multiple reasons for enduring the five day
work week, it is also interesting to note that more than half of all employees worldwide (53 per cent) feel pressure to work more extended hours or pick up extra shifts to grow their career – yet frequently that pressure comes from within. This internal pressure is evident, through the Culture studies report commissioned by Kronos Incorporated which highlights that 76 per cent workers feel they have enough time in a day to complete their daily projects with only 2 per cent spending 4 – 5 hours on non-core activities. However, workers in France (66 per cent) and India (62 per cent) feel by far the most pressure to work more extended hours. Hence, such factors are likely to deter the implementation of the four day work week.
The idea of a four-day workweek is not new. Labour experts have been studying and advocating this approach since the 1970s, although the concept has been around since the 1920s. Shortening working weeks was discovered as a solution to increase employee productivity back in the 1920s and 1930s. Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford is an ideal example of a pioneer in this realm; the company was one of the first to adopt a 40 hour work week as opposed to the standard 60 hours. The groundbreaking change was made to ensure that employees are at their productive best and not over-worked. Similar to this, a company in New Zealand recently adapted the four-day working week as a trial. Based on the positive outcome, the company has now confirmed to adopt shorter working weeks permanently. During this trial period, apart from an increase in productivity, academics reported lower levels of stress and higher job satisfaction as well as an improved sense of work-life balance.
The four day work week, hence, highlights the need of the hour – efficiency and productivity. To bring about efficiency with the workday, there has to be an opportunity to remove administrative tasks in exchange for more impactful ones. This can come into existence in a four day work week. Additionally, given that employees need more flexibility with how, when, and where they work, leaders should be supportive of an employee’s professional and personal life. When employees get time to rest, they become more productive, creative, and are healthier, meaning they take fewer sick days. This, in turn, builds the productivity of the company and the individual.
Despite the pros and cons, the biggest takeaway of this conversation is not whether the working community should move to a shorter workweek or that we need a time machine to get the work done. It is clear that employees want to work and do well by their employers, and many roles require people to be present or on call during specific hours to get the job done – such as teachers, nurses, retail employees, plant workers, delivery drivers, and nearly all customer-facing roles.
Therefore, it is even more pertinent for organisations to help their employees eliminate distractions, inefficiencies, and administrative work to enable them to work at full capacity. This will create more time to innovate, collaborate, develop skills and relationships, and serve customers while opening the door to creative scheduling options, including the coveted four-day work week.
The truth remains that everyone has only 24 hours in a day; how employers maximize employee potential without a dip in productivity is an aspect that requires the organisation’s attention. Despite the widespread enthusiasm for a four-day week, it is not convincing enough for India that such a schedule is beneficial for employees or businesses. Today, when we are free to choose how we want to work, Indians are picking the traditional work hours over a four day work week. This mindset may change in the future, but for now, it is here to stay.
(The author is Country Manager, India, Kronos Incorporated. Views expressed are personal.)