A HR Debate: A Four-Day Week

A HR Debate: A Four-Day Week

Life can get busy, and oftentimes people feel like there aren't enough hours in the day. The idea of having a work-life balance that is healthy and productive seems like an impossible task for many, from managing their day job to commitments in their day-to-day life. That's where the idea of the four-day week comes in.

Working one less weekday is a solution proposed by many in the professional world, as it promises a better work-life balance for the workforce, increased employee wellbeing and decreased risk of burnout.

The four-day week raises concerns for HR and employers about effective time management, productivity and time tracking of their employees. For employers, the concept of the four-day work week raises lots of questions: when do the hours get made up? How many hours would employees work? Would I still pay my employees the same salary working 32 hours rather than 40? How would I keep track of my team's billable hours?

XCD take on this debate by the horns: discussing the positives and negatives of a four-day work week, and how HR software could facilitate implementing the four-day work week in your organisation.

Contents:

What is the 4 day week?

The concept of the four-day week has been spoken about in the past like it's a far-fetched idea. A concept that albeit nice, was never realistic. Historically, around 400 years ago, a seven-day working week was the norm. In fact, the five-day working week was only introduced in 1914 by Henry Ford, scaling back the working week from 48 hours to 40 hours.

This made sense for the working world at the time, where almost all work took place in factories. There was no such thing as flexible working or remote working. Workers simply clocked in and out on a timesheet and had their wages docked if they were late.

However, the evolution of technology and its widespread implementation throughout the workplace is starting to change things again. The automation of HR software is making life easier for both employers and employees, and people are starting to believe that a four-day working week is not only desirable, but achievable. Many believe that four days a week is enough to maintain workloads, as well helping employees to find a better balance in their life.

Is it realistic?

For some countries, the four-day work week has already become a reality. Many organisations around the world are attempting to adopt the four-day week, to see if it can provide a better work-life balance and make their employees happier and more productive.

A trial in Iceland saw 2500 employees from different organisations move to a four day work week, where researchers noted that 'productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces' and was an 'overwhelming success'. The success of this trial was met with a permanent shift in working culture throughout Iceland, with the majority of the country's workforce moving to a shorter working week on the same pay.

The success of this has kickstarted many other organisations around to trial reduced hours for their employees. Countries such as Spain and New Zealand have also delved into trials involving reducing hours but maintaining the same pay. Spain launched a pilot program for reduced working hours in 2021 where employees will work a 32 hour week without reducing employees pay.

New Zealand also began a trial at corporate giant Unilever after seeing the success that a four day week can yield. This is also off the back of a smaller, but successful trial by New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian in 2018, which showed an increase in employees’ ability to balance work-life commitments from 54% to 78%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we view the working day and also the importance of a work-life balance. Throughout the pandemic, many enjoyed the extra free time working from home brought about and the balance it brought to employees, particularly those with families. This shift in working patterns also changed the way companies approach management and time tracking.

Pros of 4 day work week

Employee wellbeing

Reduced working hours can result in happier employees. Happier employees who have benefitted from a three day weekend would be more likely to be ready and raring to go once Monday rolls around, fresh with motivation. A five-day week with minimal flexibility has shown time and time again that it can lead to burnout.

The three day weekend also means that employees are given more time to relax over the long-term, which can greatly reduce stress levels as they are able to balance their life with work more effectively.

Productivity

A common concern shared by business leaders surrounding the idea of the four day week is that with one less working day, staff won't have enough time to complete the same amount of work they would in a full five day week.

The trials have shown that it actually leads to an increase in productivity in the workplace. The trial in Iceland demonstrated that 'worker's experienced significant increases in wellbeing and work-life balance - all while existing levels of service provision and productivity were at the very least maintained, and in some instances improved'.

Distractions arise in a workplace when employees are struggling to focus and feel motivated to work. By shortening the week by one day, HR can greatly minimise these distractions as workers who are feeling fresh and motivated are significantly less likely to engage in distractions.

An increase in productivity and efficiency despite a decrease in working hours mean that employees can stay feeling fresh and performances are likely to stay sharp, so deadlines will continue to be met.
Work-life balance

Work-related stress is common amongst workers who have a poor work-life balance. The five day working week has seen workers struggle to strike a healthy work-life balance for a long time. With an increasingly fast-paced working world and long weeks, people inevitably begin to experience stress due to being overworked and having very little time to spend with their loved ones and to relax.

Having an extra day off in the week gives workers key time to relax which can greatly reduce stress levels. Having a good work-life balance plays into effective management, as employee engagement and happiness will increase.

Managing health

The implementation of a four day week can help workers to manage both their physical, and mental health more effectively.

Poor health such as feeling stressed in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on an employee's productivity, ability to meet deadlines and their relationship with their co-workers. Employees with poor mental and physical health are also likely to have more days off with sick leave, which can affect performance and impact their team members.

When HR takes an active interest in their employees health, it makes a huge difference to their loyalty to an organisation and motivation. When your employees are in good health, this will show in the results of your business. It is HR's responsibility to manage employee health, the implementation of a four day working week has shown to be an effective way to do so.

Using time tracking software, HR is able to track their employees’ absences to see if there are any trends in their leave. If the demands of a workplace are evidently causing health issues, considering changing to four days instead of five can reduce the likelihood of stress and ill-health developing.

Cons of 4 day work week

Not all businesses can adapt

The four day working week sounds great, however, that doesn't mean it's suitable for every single business model. For example, some companies, depending on their industry, need to be open and working 24/7. This is particularly true for manufacturing companies in which the machinery may take a long time to set up and take down, severely impacting profits.

Issues may arise when it comes to employee's work schedules and changing their time tracking process for their employees. This could also cause complications for payroll, as they are unable to effectively manage and track time on a shortened working week.

Potential for stress

This may seem contradictory! Depending on your job, less working hours in the week can mean that workers may find it difficult to get their work completed in time without the same number of hours at their desk that they are used to.

Regardless of how good an individual's time management skills are, clients may still require five day week support. Employees may simply be unable to meet their deadlines in time which can result in a drop in employee wellbeing and happiness, not to mention business productivity targets.

It is important for employers, line managers and HR professionals to monitor their staff if their organisation changes to the four-day week working model. If they notice that their employees are struggling to manage with the changes and their time management, it is important for employers to be proactive and offer time management tips and even time management training to help them adjust.

4 day week vs. Flexible working

With the pandemic showing that remote and flexible working is not just possible, but productive, many companies are adopting a more flexible work culture. Four working days a week could be the next step in this cultural shift. Shifting to four days in a week would bring about a big change in working culture, the structure of the working week and the time management of employees. For HR, this raises the question of payroll and effectively time tracking their employees.

How to compensate your employees for a 4 day week

Four day work weeks, as well as flexible working hours, brings up significant challenges for HR and Payroll departments to manually track employee time, calculate billable hours and ensure accurate compensation. Filling out timesheets manually can become an arduous and complex process at the best of times, but with flexible working schedules for different employees, this could become unmanageable.

Benefits of time tracking software

Time tracking software can benefit a company greatly when making the transition to working four days a week, or supporting flexible working patterns. XCD's time tracking software makes it easier than ever for employers to manage the time of their employees, and their pay, even on irregular hours and flexible working patterns.

XCD’s time tracking and payroll solution enables HR to see all of their employee’s working schedules from a simple dashboard. Using XCD's intuitive work cycles tool, time tracking becomes a simple process. Employers can adjust their employee's timesheets to suit more flexible working schedules, allowing for employers to have greater control over time management and employees to have more flexibility.

XCD's time tracking software can be accessed via the mobile app, meaning employees benefit from accessible time tracking remotely. Employees can fill in their timesheets from anywhere, ensuring there are no delays in payroll. The self-service function of the time management software allows employees to take charge of their timesheets and time management, saving payroll and HR teams valuable administrative time.

Time tracking software can also help HR manage logistical challenges like time off in lieu (TOIL) in an organisation.

Implementing effective time tracking for your workforce can also help HR to make better, more informed decisions when it comes to project management. HR can see how many hours their teams spend on particular projects and redistribute resources accordingly.

So, which side are you on?

The four day work week has shown positive results everywhere it has been trailed. Although it seems like a monumental shift for an HR department to undergo, it can result in organisations and employees alike flourishing as they are able to find better balance in their life.

Although daunting, challenges such as the four day work week are becoming achievable for many businesses through accessible, intuitive software and workplace solutions.

Reshaping the way HR undergoes its project management, time and expenses tracking can be made simple and fast with XCD's intuitive HR solutions. Book a demo today.

Return to insights

More articles

How do workplace relationships impact employee experience?

Back to the top

Join thousands of HR and Payroll professionals and get news, thoughts and advice direct to your inbox