The Four Day Workweek: It’s Time to Assess Your Organization’s Time Management



You might’ve read about Microsoft Japan testing the four-day workweek in the summer of 2019 recently. The story swept across the internet, in part, because the results were so eye-opening: Microsoft Japan found that employee productivity jumped 40 percent. Efficiency was increased in many other areas, too, from lower electricity costs to less use of paper.

Microsoft’s experiment complemented the results of a study conducted in 2018 with the Workforce Institute at Kronos and Future Workplace, where it was found that nearly half of employees could do their job in less than five hours per day if they were uninterrupted.

As HR professionals, we also know these are monumental changes which aren’t going to happen anytime soon, no matter how many likes or shares they garner on social media. Which is why it’s important to focus on what we can do right now, in the present, to improve our organization’s employee experience. I’m talking about a time management audit. 

Here are two huge questions to ponder when considering whether a four-day workweek is really needed to improve productivity and the employee experience or whether time management practices need a refresh to keep up with changing technology.

What are employees doing with their time?

As we head into 2020, the reality is, we are all more distracted than ever at work. Working uninterruptedly is simply not possible for many.  

When was the last time you checked your email? Odds are it was within the last forty minutes, which is the average length of time the average knowledge worker can go without peeking at their inbox, according to a study conducted by RescueTime.  The same study found that the average knowledge worker uses a communication tool once every six minutes.

The urge to check text messages, social media, and other electronic communication is strong in society today it’s rewiring our brains. Too many electronic distractions can lead to a lack of focus, which can then bring about frustration, burnout, and lower productivity—all things that negatively impact the employee experience and lead to higher turnover rates and less positive impact on the bottom line.

Consider how many disparate technology systems your employees are using in their workday. Can they be consolidated? For example, not only can a single solution that spans all of HR, workforce management, and payroll help employees navigate quicker, but it can help HR teams – especially the admirable HR Department of One – get more work done faster.  Bottom line: employees expect us to provide them with tools that will boost their productivity, not hinder it.

Do you reward the quantity of time at work or quality of work produced?

If your workplace culture makes employees feel like they are rewarded for the number of physical hours they are at the office rather than the quality of their work, you may be fostering a culture of unhealthy competition of who will win the “wasted time stand-off” while waiting for the clock to turn to five at the end of the day.

Why force employees to stay when they have completed all their work for a day? Or why force everyone to start their day at the same time? Organizations that depend on the frontline and present workers to run – like a hospital – might need to get creative in scheduling, but every business should audit whether they’re rewarding the amount of time at work or the quality of work produced.

Physical presence does not always lead to additional work output or improved quality. If employees can get their work completed in less than eight hours a day on a consistent and efficient basis, you might want to explore other work options.

A four-day workweek could be a solution, but so might other alternative work schedules such as compressed workweeks, remote work, and flexible hours. If these initiatives are an option at your workplace, talk to your people and ask them what they would prefer.

When you empower employees and give them control over their time, you are showing that you care about the whole person, and not just the worker. Someone who feels appreciated – and trusted – will often go above and beyond in the workplace, and a sense of loyalty could be fostered.

Now is a good time to take inventory of your technology solutions to see if they are truly making your workforce more productive or having the opposite effect. Be sure that your solutions are cloud-based, so you know you are getting the best version of the product you have purchased, and your data is secure.

Additionally, think about how you are measuring productivity. Simply guessing that productivity is high or low will no longer suffice and being able to show that a strategic change to time management policies will tangibly lead to improvement is a key foundation to any good business case for change.

Implementing the four-day workweek on a larger scale could have generational impacts on the world in which we live. This is also the case with shifting to a five-hour workday. Would our employees be less stressed and more productive? I certainly would like to think so.  But as HR professionals, we also know there is A LOT we can do by simply getting more progressive in our own time management policies and processes that will also yield big-time productivity (and engagement!) gains.



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