The idea of a four-day work week goes all the way back to the 1970s, but it’s gained real traction in recent years with hundreds of companies in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and the UAE experimenting with it. And pending legislation in California and Washington D.C. would make the four-day work week part of fair labor practices.
There is also data from a pilot of a four-day work week in the U.K. demonstrating that condensing the work week in some form—while maintaining the same pay level—is good for both employees and business. About 40% of employees in the U.K. pilot said they experienced less work-related stress, and 71% reported lower levels of burnout. More than 40% said their mental health had improved, with many reporting decreases in anxiety and negative emotions. At the same time, revenue for participating companies increased by an average of about 1% during the pilot period.
Of the 61 companies that took part, 56 planned to continue four-day work weeks after the pilot ended, and 18 of those said they would make it permanent. Two companies are extending the trial, and only three don’t plan to carry on with any element of the four-day work week.
See also: Can a 4-day workweek provide health benefits to employees?
Flexibility beyond the 4-day work week
For those of us in the HR profession, there is probably not a lot of surprise here: Employees are generally happier when they have balance in their lives. And happier employees typically produce better business outcomes.
I’m a big proponent of the four-day work week. Unfortunately, I think we are still a long way away from it becoming standard operating procedure. The question is, does that really matter?
In my experience, you can offer your employees all the same flexibility and satisfaction they might get from a four-day work week simply by empowering them to work when, where and how they believe they will be their most productive.
That idea may not work for every group of employees, but it can work for a lot of organizations, especially those with a high percentage of “knowledge workers.” And in many ways, it may be more productive than a set four-day work week. Consider global organizations balancing different time zones that can’t adopt the same four-day structure, or teams that have to serve customers and partners in other regions of the world. Or how about teams that have to serve customers in general? In some ways, the four-day work week gives companies less flexibility, not more.
So, while we wait for the four-day work week to become reality, here are some things organizations can do now to increase flexibility, prevent burnout, and improve employee satisfaction and engagement.
Invest in a hybrid workplace
Don’t force employees back to an office. Let them decide where they can work best. If you don’t feel you can trust them to do that, you may have a different issue on your hands.
At the same time, ask leadership and managers to be more intentional about when and how they use your office space, e.g., plan meetings strategically and schedule opportunities for collaboration with other teams. Nobody wants or needs to go to an office just to sit on video conference calls all day.
Uplevel your PTO policies
Here at Flywire, PTO is more than just sick and vacation days. Those are important, but we’ve also put programs in place to give employees (FlyMates, in our language) opportunities to seek fulfillment outside of the office. One of these is what we call Digital Disconnect Days which encourage FlyMates to disconnect completely from work. Another is FlyBetter Days, paid volunteer days enabling FlyMates to give back to their communities.
Learn how leading employers are leveraging their benefits to offer employees flexibility at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.
People have done some really interesting things with FlyBetter days. For example, in Valencia, Spain, one of our FlyMates worked with Amnesty International as an interpreter for an Afghan activist fighting for women’s rights. They met with local and county authorities in Spain, gave talks in schools and community centers, and did media interviews. Another FlyMate created a digital fundraising campaign for a nonprofit that supports orphans and rural communities in Zambia. There are numerous other interesting examples, but the most important thing is that these volunteer days give people a chance to apply their valuable skills and a little bit of their time to causes they genuinely care about. And that makes a big difference to them and how they feel about being part of our company.
Prioritize mental health and wellbeing
In 2023, businesses that aren’t investing in their employees’ mental health and wellbeing are missing an opportunity and potentially hurting their business.
A recent study shows that 67% of employees want their employer to help them take care of their stress and anxiety. At Flywire, we believe (like most of you) that what happens in an employee’s life is likely to impact other areas of their life if not taken care of. So, we try to support them in all ways so they can be more engaged and thrive personally and professionally. Some of the resources we offer include:
- Free confidential counseling services: All our employees and their immediate family members have access to an exclusive, vetted and trained network of 20,000 providers in more than 200 countries. The counseling network supports 60-plus unique care needs and offers culturally responsive, localized care. Counselors and wellness coaches are available 24/7 to provide support on any issue.
- Online wellness workshops/forums: We offer programs to support six core areas of employee wellness—emotional, financial, social, environmental, physical and career. These workshops and forums not only provide direct support to FlyMates, they also create opportunities for FlyMates to connect around common interests and needs.
See also: How can the 4-day work week be a true game-changer for employers?
Have leaders set an example about work/life balance
Related to the above, every employee has a life outside of work—whether they are juggling kids, dependents, relationships, health, life changes or something else. It’s really important for leadership to set the right tone about balancing work and life. One simple example: Executives should not hide the fact that they are taking PTO; they need to let employees know that it’s OK to take time to be with their families and friends, and to take care of their personal lives.
Our CEO has had to take investor calls from his sons’ soccer games and he likes to share that with the company. His point is not to call attention to working on his personal time; rather, he calls attention to the importance of making time for his personal life.
The idea of the four-day work week supports a lot of the ideas discussed above, but it’s far from the only way. By investing in our employees and creating a working environment that allows for more flexible work schedules, we can help them better balance their professional and personal lives. That will lead to healthier and happier employees, increased employee retention and better business performance.