Reduced working weeks: Making less work, work

The demand for reduced working weeks is on the rise – but the fear of the unknown may discourage employers. Can less work, work?

Lucy Hopwood Marketing Administrator at FMC Global Talent

As discussed in the previous instalment of FMC’s Future of Work series, the five-day week is looking to become a thing of the past for some. Becoming the norm over the last century, the 9 ‘til 5, Monday to Friday is now being called outdated – backed by the argument of it not leaving enough time for an effective work-life balance. So, could a reduced working week be set to replace it?

Reduced working weeks do come with a set of teething problems which may be enough to put some employers off. From deciding how the week will look for your company to being out of touch with clients when you’re not in office, there’re a few bumps in the road in introducing a reduced week.

We think if these challenges are carefully considered and managed, they’re not necessarily enough to totally put an end to the concept of working less…

Productivity

Probably the biggest concern on an employers’ mind surrounding the feasibility of a reduced working week is the change in productivity levels of the company. It’s natural to adopt the mindset that fewer hours worked equals less work completed – but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Experiments such as the Icelandic Government Trail­­ and Microsoft Japan’s experiment both saw an increase of up to 40% in productivity, alongside improvements in employee wellbeing and work-life balance.Not only do modern experiments disprove this hypothesis – Parkinson’s Law is that adage that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’.

Despite being articulated in 1955, the concept still lives on today and was recently discussed by author Joe Sanok. Speaking during a LinkedIn News event, he said: “We find when we give ourselves fewer hours, what we do is we don’t overthink it, we spend the time not being paralysed by perfection and we just get things done.”

Compressed hours vs. reduced hours

Reduced working weeks are often referred to as four-day weeks – but this isn’t always accurate. With the meaning being subjective, many companies select different approaches from options such as five, shorter days to four, longer days. Some employers go for exactly what it says on the tin, cutting both the hours and days worked by introducing 32-hour weeks across four days. Others choose to cut down the hours worked each day, with employees starting and finishing earlier to improve their daily work-life balance.

And others opt to reduce the days, but not the hours. In theory, whilst this does give workers a ‘four-day week’, it doesn’t necessarily reap the benefits of a reduced working week. Running the risk of burnout due to longer days, combined with the commute, issues could arise with employees balancing work with their personal and family lives, potentially exacerbating the issues reduced working weeks are designed to solve.

Plus, it begs the question of whether it’s actually a reduced working week at all?

Ultimately, approaches will differ from company to company – and employers need to work with their employees to discover which one will be the most effective for both the business and the people within it. There’s no one size fits all, but there’s likely to be some version of a truly reduced working week that makes less work, work!

Practicality

Another challenge presented with a reduced working week is the practicality of scheduling who is working on which day, and from what location. Having different teams off on different days is all well and good – that is, until inter-team meetings or support is required.

This can be resolved by having the whole company working the same days – leaving all employees with the same non-working day – or through careful planning of days ‘off’. With the use of web pages and out of office statuses, the issue of being unavailable to clients can be avoided as they will be aware of when a company is contactable.

Can less work actually work?

In our opinion, yes. Combing the hordes of positive experiment results with the companies already operating effective reduced working weeks, we think the future of shorter weeks looks promising.

If companies are able to overcome the logistical challenges and the fear of the unknown, helping to improve employee wellbeing is likely to lead to a happier, more productive workforce – and in turn, a more successful and productive company.


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. 

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