The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are being felt throughout the world, and many businesses have had to get rid of staff, furlough them, or reduce their working hours. However, some companies that had reduced employee hours to cope with the pandemic are choosing to keep the shorter work week in place, even as they reinstate full pay. So, is this new four day week the solution to the post-pandemic economy? Could we soon be saying ‘Thank God It’s Thursday’?
1. UK company introduces successful 4 day week
One such company, UK based Target Publishing, was pushed to cut the wages of its 30 employees by 20%, following the first coronavirus lockdown last year which caused a drop in advertising sales and led to several cancelled projects. However, the company wanted to make a positive gesture to its employees, so it also cut their working hours by the same percentage, effectively introducing a four-day week.
Interestingly, this shift to a four-day week brought immediate benefits to the company. Founder and owner, David Cann, was so surprised by the increased efficacy of his staff that in July, when the situation had improved, he was able to reinstate everyone’s pay and decided to retain the four-day week. Cann noted how meetings were much shorter and they were able to look at the way staff worked and what they did much more closely to achieve significant efficiencies, adding “And from a mental health point of view, we see huge benefits and because everyone wants it to work, you get an upside in higher profits.”
We were determined to make a positive change come from the pandemic.— Target Publishing (@TargetPubLtd) January 18, 2021
That’s why we begun a four-day week, to give our staff more time to focus on their own health & wellbeing.
Today we received Gold Standard accreditation from @4Day_Week 👉https://t.co/cT5hBoFu7N#4DayWeek ♥️ pic.twitter.com/D1R0lKUjlz
2. International companies making similar changes
In November, multinational consumer goods company Unilever announced its plan to introduce a four-day week for staff at its New Zealand office, whilst continuing to pay them the same. The company employs more than 150,000 people worldwide, and its announcement gave the kind of high-profile endorsement for flexible working that four day week campaigners have been waiting for. A few weeks later, online marketing firm Awin revealed it was moving its 1,000 employees to a four day week after trialling several forms of flexible working.
Check out our new website!— Four Day Week (@Four_day_week) March 6, 2020
– Featuring job search filters & employer accounts! 🤓
– Same place, new design! 🤩https://t.co/zaTG2CQlQQ!#new #website #web #tech #jobsite #jobs #friyay pic.twitter.com/FoKoblSZzB
3. Expanding the changes
As part of their change to working hours, both Awin and Unilever will trust staff to work more effectively during a 12-month pilot project, an idea based on research done in Auckland. Unilever will also introduce new project management software which will cut down on unnecessary tasks and support faster decision-making. After the trial, the company plans to evaluate the outcome together with Sydney’s University of Technology business school, in order to look at how a shorter working week could be adopted by the rest of its 155,000 employees worldwide.
The initiative follows a similar trial by Microsoft in Japan, as well as Toyota’s adoption of reduced hours in several of its factories. Microsoft limited meetings to half an hour and changed several working practices as part of part of a summer project that allowed greater participation by staff teams. The company reported increased productivity of employees by 40%, and has yet to reveal what they plan to do next.
Don’t miss the latest, most exciting developments in working-time reduction from across Europe in our shorter working week newsletter. 🌠https://t.co/23npLe8E7M— NEF (@NEF) January 23, 2021
4. The science behind it
Economist Aidan Harper has championed the four-day week with colleagues at the London based New Economics Foundation (NEF) thinktank and a growing number of political organisations across Europe, and says “Its time has come”. He explained that in the UK, during much of the 20th-century companies were forced by trade union action, government policy or labour shortages to give workers much of the gains in productivity, but this stopped in the 1980s. Productivity increases are close to zero since the 2008 financial crisis, and the pandemic is forcing companies like Target to rethink how they use their resources, so there is a growing expectation that 2021 will see a wider shift to shorter working hours. Until now not many organisations have introduced the concept and progress towards a widespread four-day week culture has been small, however Harper expects the pressure on companies to review their operations to accelerate this in the new year.