Is a reduced working week the future?

The pandemic has seen companies introduce flexibility in where we work – but is there also a rise in demand to reduce when we work?

Lucy Hopwood Marketing Administrator at FMC Global Talent

As the pandemic has led to an increase in conversations about flexible working locations, naturally conversations have turned to other ways we can change how we work in future, and whispers surrounding how long we work for each week are beginning to get louder.

A five-day working week has been the accepted norm since being implemented over 100 years ago, but as the post-pandemic working population begin to settle into a new way of working, boundaries are now being debated on whether a two-day weekend leaves us with enough ‘me’ time and if it’s time to step away from what we know.

With more and more employers wanting their voices to be heard, employers are responding and we have started to see a shift in what the majority of us have always known. Naturally, this increase in companies taking an interest in reduced working weeks has come with a whole host of questions and challenges surrounding the shift.

During the second topic of FMC’s Future of Work series, When will we work?, we’ll be exploring the different aspects of reduced working weeks and whether they look likely become common in the modern working world.

What does a reduced working week look like?

It’s worth noting that there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to a reduced working week. Whilst the ‘four-day week’ is often adopted, it’s not always the case of just giving employees an extra day off.

Some believe that a reduced working week means exactly that – cutting the week down and leaving workers with an extra non-working day, without extending their remaining working days. To some this might sound too good to be true, with some people believing they may struggle to condense five days’ work into four and inadvertently working overtime.

Others opt to avoid this challenge by reducing the days, but not reducing the hours. In theory, whilst this does give workers a four-day week, it runs the risk of employee burnout due to longer days. Despite having three non-working days, issues could arise with balancing work with your personal and family life if expected to work 10+ hour days regularly. It also begs the question of if this does actually count as a reduced working week… 

And some companies don’t ditch the fifth day at all – but choose to reduce the number of working hours per day. This model may be the way forward for companies with many working parents; enabling them to carry out their jobs inside the school run bracket, potentially resulting in a reduction in childcare costs and a better work-family balance.

With so many different pathways to implementing a successful reduced working week, it’s easy to get it wrong if the decision is rushed. The clear choice is to take whatever brings in the best results for the company and its employees, whilst still reaping the benefits of reduced hours.

But does it work?

It’s all well and good saying reduced working weeks are the way forward – but we’ll only truly find the answer by putting it to the test. From Scotland to Scandinavia, employers all around the globe are beginning to adopt a new way of work in a bid to improve their population’s work-life balance.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Icelandic Government Trial saw 1% of the country’s workforce put onto reduced weekly hours. After research found the average number of hours worked per week to be 44.4, a selection of full-time and shift workers’ hours were cut by roughly 25%, with the majority working 35- or 36-hour weeks.

After the experiment saw a maintained or increased productivity level and a rise in worker wellbeing in all 2,500+ workers, it was hailed a success. As a result, 86% of Iceland’s working population now hold contracts meaning they already work reduced hours or will do in the near future.

Looking further in-depth, software company Monograph uses each Wednesday as its ‘mid-week weekend’, which it believes has seen a reduction in employee burnout. Speaking during a LinkedIn News event, CEO Robert Yuen revealed how the reduced working week has been a “phenomenal success”. He said: “Ensuring that [employees] happiness on the job, and off the job, is on point guarantees success here at Monograph.”

Are reduced working weeks the future?

Over the past two years, we’ve taken remote working from being a novelty to an easily achievable reality. We’ve made hiring from talent pools not only nationally, but internationally a new norm. And we’ve integrated technology into our professional lives more efficiently than ever before.

So, what’s to say we need to stop there? When reflecting on the pre-existing research, it almost makes 5-day weeks questionable. If the same productivity and service levels are maintained whilst worker wellbeing and work-life balance is improved; it really does look like an increasing number of companies may begin to cut down on how much they work.

Maybe it’s time to move away from the 100-year-old norm of a five day working week after all.

Do you think a reduced working week is the future? What would your ideal reduced working week look like? We’d love to hear your thoughts! 

The FMC Future of Work series aims to explore what the future holds for our professional lives. Over the next few months, we’ll be providing weekly updates where we’ll be discussing different aspects of how, where and when we work. 

We’ll also be undertaking some research into what the future of work may look like for us all, and will be sharing our findings with you. There’ll be an opportunity for you to take part in a survey on what you think the future of work will look like,so keep an eye out on the FMC Blog for more information in the coming weeks.