The four-day week: How to lead by example
And drive business success.
Why You Should Care
The four-day week is gaining momentum.
It's time to get on board, or risk getting left behind.
Here's how to do flexibility right.
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More than 80% of people in the UK would prefer a four-day week, according to a survey by Reed. The figure is 85% in the US, with 81% saying that working four-days was better for productivity and motivation.
Before the pandemic, this working schedule would have been a pipe dream.
As people were forced to stay at home, working mindsets shifted from wanting more cash to wanting more flexibility, especially amongst the younger generations.
The success of the recent global four-day week trial also confirmed that this scheme can not only be implemented successfully, but it demonstrates the desire for a more adaptable, modern workforce that values a work-life balance over anything else.
However, leadership must be careful to abide by the same flexible working initiatives as everyone else or they will not be implemented.
The four-day week
Over 60 UK companies trialed a four-day workweek between June 2022 and December 2022, in the largest shortened workweek trial in the world.
Following this, 90% of participating businesses then opted to continue with the four-day week, including 18 that have committed to adapting it permanently.
Similar experiments have taken place elsewhere in the world with positive results.
One global report covering six countries that have trialed the four-day week declared the tests a ‘resounding success’ for employers and employees alike.
While employees reported less stress, burnout and fatigue, alongside improved physical and mental health, employers cited improved employee morale with no loss of revenue.
Although this report focused on the four-day week trial, it highlights the value of adapting to new ways of working that meet the needs of the modern workforce.
The importance of flexible work initiatives
It is highly likely that a reduced work week will become the norm, so if your company is late to adopt or at least try this initiative, you will quickly be behind the times.
The 32-hour week is emerging as a tool for competitive advantage in terms of talent attraction and retention as well as profits.
Attracting and retaining talent
To plan for the future of your business, you must look ahead and invest in the next generation of leaders.
In five years, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce and within this generation, the biggest trend is high job turnover.
Millennials are always on the lookout for new job opportunities, so retaining these future leaders can be difficult. However, offering flexible work opportunities can help.
According to Millennials and Gen Z, flexibility and adaptability are most critical to successful businesses and the ability to work remotely is very important for 75% of millennials.
Companies that want to stay ahead and both attract and retain younger talent must offer their employees greater independence and demonstrate their trust by allowing for flexible work.
Better wellbeing, increased profitability
At the root of the desire for flexible working is the improvement of employee wellbeing.
Whether this is enjoying work more, feeling valued by their organization or an improved work-life balance, better employee wellbeing is a positive outcome of any flexibility initiatives.
Offering benefits such as the four-day week not only positively impacts your staff, but putting employees’ wellbeing first leads to increased profits.
In fact, research shows that companies that prioritize employee engagement and wellbeing outperform others.
Companies that support staff wellbeing reap the benefits through enhanced morale, loyalty, commitment, innovation, productivity and profitability.
Leading by example
When it comes to the four-day week and any flexible working initiatives, senior leadership must ‘walk the talk’.
If CEOs and other C-suite executives are the only ones who are able to reap the benefits of wellbeing schemes such as working fewer hours, this will result in low morale and low work ethic.
This principle also applies to the adverse of this. If you have a four-day week in place or you are preaching about having a healthy work-life balance, as a leader you must be able to switch off from your work and quit working long hours.
When leaders do lead by example this boosts employee morale, builds respect and trust between superiors and subordinates and fosters a positive work environment.
The boss who ‘walks the talk’ and embodies their company values daily will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Barriers to the four-day week
The biggest barrier to companies introducing the four-day week is the combination of entrenched culture and resistant bosses.
When a workplace has been conditioned into a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture where burnout and stress are normal, it can be difficult to turn it around.
Assumptions and habits around work can become deep-rooted in a company’s culture, making it easy to normalize working long hours with very few breaks.
Another challenge to the four-day week is resistance from leadership who don’t understand the ways of younger generations and the new way of thinking about work.
Some managers may see the shorter week as reducing their control or making it more difficult for them to manage their team.
Many industries just can’t achieve a four-day week, such as retail and hospitality. Managers instead, then, must ensure they are encouraging their employee’s work-life balance in other ways.
Leadership can encourage a culture of openness where staff feel comfortable speaking up when they are experiencing burnout, offer flexible working where possible and encourage breaks and stress-relieving activities like lunchtime walks.
The workforce is changing. Flexibility and adaptability are not only desirable traits to current and potential employees but are essential to future-proofing your business.
The four-day week is the perfect example of this, with the global trial boasting positive outcomes for employees and employers alike.
Bosses must then ensure they are leading by example and following these flexible work schemes in the same work their staff are.
In today’s world of work, the younger generation is demanding flexibility, positive company culture and a better work-life balance, and if companies don’t change with the times, they will be left behind.
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CEO and founder
Ruth Zawoda Clea founded Truly Content Ltd. alongside her sister, Alice Zawoda, in 2014.