Working life – time for a re-think?
The slow change in working behaviour which has been simmering for several years has now had a profound shake up. The covid 19 pandemic forced many workers and employers to seek new remote working solutions. Gone is the conviction that productivity is best extracted out of employees by their being present in the office for eight hours a day for five days a week. There’s a new wave of flexibility with workers seeking out – and many employers happy to embrace – hybrid and remote working solutions, flexible working hours, and shorter working weeks, either adjusting the working week to 4x 10 hours or in recent trials scaling back the working week to 4 days, without loss of salary.
Benefits cited are greater work-life balance and better mental health, and – for those able to work from home – avoiding the gruelling demands of the daily commute.
Evidence is mounting that people are more productive, happier and healthier in situations where they can have a sense of control over the hours worked – weaving in the demands of non-work life around working commitments (childcare, care for older relatives, community activities, or just plain time for yourself).
The success of the 4 day week pilot at Citizens Advice Gateshead in the UK has been startling with those participating reporting much greater levels of wellbeing – shortening their working weeks and maintaining their productivity. Using the extra day off to get through life admin and so free up the weekend for quality family time – or re-discovering hobbies and activities are the most commonly recorded benefits. The 4 day week campaign report highlights similar accounts from other organisations with data showing that 39% of employees were less stressed after the trial than before it, and work-life balance had improved: 60% were better able to combine paid work with care responsibilities, and 62% found it easier to combine work with social life.
Meanwhile, the companies involved experienced an average 1.4% rise in revenue and the number of staff leaving decreased by 57%. And when they were asked how much of a pay rise they would need to persuade them to work five days a week again, 15% of employees said that no amount of money would make them go back.
Is it all good news? Well, of course, face time with colleagues, customers and clients is still positive and can even be essential in some situations. But the fixed idea that work can only be delivered productively and profitably by being physically present together is long gone for many.
Is it global? In many ways, the shift is most documented in European and North American markets – East Asia is still hallmarked by what seems for Westerners excessively long working hours, with a quarter of Japan’s businesses having employees recording over 80 hours per week and South Korea’s recent attempt to increase the legal limit of working hours from 52 to 69. Both markets face similar challenges of ageing working populations and lower productivity – and, if not in a state of outright rebellion, at least many Millennials and Gen Z are making it clear that more hours are not the solution.
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At ADK Insights, we continue to monitor social trends and working lives.