Employers Experiment with Reduced Workweeks

 

By Sinead Casey © Linklaters LLP February 8, 2019
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​As increasing numbers of organizations in the United Kingdom (U.K.) are using evolving technology and communications to streamline processes and automate tasks, could this represent an opportunity for employees to benefit from a reduced workweek and, if so, what impact might this have on employers?

Workplace flexibility has become an increasingly important focus for many employees and organizations, particularly in the quest to attract and retain the Millennial generation. A number of recent studies have found that Millennials are the most culturally mindful generation and have a new approach to workplace productivity and flexibility, believing that productivity should be measured by the output of the work performed rather than by the number of hours worked at the office.

Large Employer Launches Four-Day Workweek

The four-day week has hit the headlines again as it has been widely reported that the Wellcome Trust, a London-based science research foundation, could launch a four-day workweek for its 800 head office staff with no reduction in pay. The Wellcome Trust says it is considering the move in a bid to boost productivity and improve work life balance and has asked other employers who have implemented or considered a four-day workweek to come forward to share their thoughts and experiences.

The Wellcome Trust isn't the first employer to experiment with the workweek:

  • A two-year trial in Sweden where workers switched to a six-hour working day found that the shorter working hours resulted in happier, healthier and more productive employees.
  • In 2018 New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian switched its 240 employees to a four-day workweek and found small increases in total output despite the shorter working hours.
  • Amazon has tested a pilot program where staff worked 30 hours per week for 75 percent of full-time pay and a full benefits package.

Key Considerations

What are the key considerations for employers who may be considering implementing a reduced workweek? They include:

  • Is your organization's work suited to a reduced workweek? Is it feasible for your organization to operate on a four-day week or would you need to operate a skeleton staff or rota system for the fifth day? It is likely to be easier for an organization whose work is predictable and not time-critical to implement a reduced workweek.
  • What would the costs of a reduced workweek be for your organization? The Swedish trial referenced above found that the increased costs of a six-hour working day (primarily for additional headcount) meant that it was unlikely to be feasible in practice. However, such costs may be offset by other costs savings, such as increased productivity as reported in the Swedish study and by Perpetual Guardian; reduced employee absences due to improved employee health and wellbeing; reduced employee turnover; and reduced operational office costs.
  • How would a reduced workweek be perceived by your organization's stakeholders, customers or clients, and the public? Would a reduced workweek be detrimental to your organization's reputation or ability to deliver its services in any way?
  • Would a reduced workweek be an effective recruitment and retention tool? Would it be effective in differentiating your organization from its competitors as an attractive place to work with a better work/life balance and an increased sense of work satisfaction? Would it make it easier to recruit and/or reduce employee turnover, therefore reducing the costs of recruitment and training?
  • What would the benefits of a reduced workweek be for your employees? The limited trials of reduced workweeks to date have consistently reported that it resulted in employees having lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction and an improved sense of work-life balance.
  • Would a reduced workweek contribute to improving your organization's diversity and inclusion? The traditional full-time work schedule is unlikely to be a "one size fits all" model and a reduced workweek is likely to be more accessible to a more diverse pool of employees.
  • Would a reduced workweek improve your employees' performance? Would it improve employees' commitment and motivation? Would it allow your employees the breathing space to come up with new ideas and problem-solve in their downtime?
  • Are there other considerations to take into account? Will you offer only a reduced workweek or will employees have the option to work five days if they wish to do so? Will different terms and conditions apply to those who opt in to the reduced workweek?

Careful thought and planning will be required before an organization decides to make the change to a reduced workweek. A reduced workweek will not suit every organization, but where it is feasible there are clear benefits for both employers and employees.

Sinead Casey is a lawyer with Linklaters LLP in London. © 2019 Linklaters LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission of Lexology.

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