How a 4 day work week can boost employee productivity

It is well documented that the British workforce is suffering from low productivity. Despite working hours being at an all-time high, the overall productivity and efficiency remain at low levels. For many companies, managing millennials, currently the largest generation at work, sets one of the biggest challenges. However, as we head out of the lockdown, employees of all demographics are seeking better work-life balance, career development and job security. And while businesses are trying to increase employee satisfaction in order to boost employee productivity, by giving much of what employees have been asking for, the 4 day work week scenario has resurfaced.

What previous 4 day work week studies suggest

When Microsoft conducted an experiment that involved reducing the workweek to 4 days in one of its Japan subsidiaries, the tech giant announced they experienced a 40% boost in productivity. Microsoft’s “Work-Life Choice Challenge” project took place in August 2019, aiming to examine how work-life balance can help boost productivity. Consequently, the company closed its offices every Friday, resulting in a 39.9% increase in employee productivity, compared with August 2018.

Moreover, it’s not just Microsoft, that’s backing up the fact that a 4 day work week can indeed increase employee productivity. The founder of Perpetual Garden, Andrew Barnes, conducted a similar experiment and found that it did not only benefit the employees but also the company. Ever since the business has adopted the four-day workweek on a permanent basis.

The correlation between a shorter workweek and employee productivity

Several studies and experiments have found there’s demand for a shorter workweek, with the majority of participants stating that their ideal workweek would be four days or less. Sanford University conducted an in-depth examination regarding the relationship of these two factors, that revealed a clear correlation between a shorter work week and productivity. The results showed that overworked employees are less productive than those who work an average or normal workweek. Furthermore, the research showed that a shorter work week did not only positively affect employee productivity and well-being but also boosted job satisfaction, teamwork, work-life balance, and employee loyalty.

Another study with 1,989 UK office workers as participants, has revealed that employees are productive for an average of only 2 hours and 53 minutes each workday on average. That means in a standard workday that’s at least five hours of being unproductive. Therefore, it makes sense that fewer hours at work can result in less opportunities to be distracted. Furthermore, a shorter workweek also cuts down on meetings and interruption. On the other hand, an extra day-off allows employees more time to get things done that may otherwise affect their focus when in the office.

Better employee engagement and reduced absenteeism

In terms of employee engagement and absenteeism levels a 4 day work week can lead to happier and more committed employees. People are less likely to experience high levels of stress or take sick leave as they have enough time to rest and recover. Giving employees an extra day for personal time minimises the likelihood of them calling in sick or taking days off unexpectedly. In doing so, staff will return to work feeling ready to take on new challenges, which will reduce company turnover and high levels of absenteeism and boost employee motivation.

Overall, research and experiments confirm that productivity is highest when people work fewer hours, while worker output and quality drop once people clock in more than 48 hours per week. Of course, time will only tell if the 4 day work week ever makes it to be the norm in the UK, but the idea has shot up the agenda of several employers, employees and job seekers over the last months.

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