More employers are discovering the benefits of the four-day working week, including increased productivity and employee satisfaction. Many employers, however, continue to express concern over the difficulty in implementing and managing the four-day working week, as well as its impact on customers.
Today’s unprecedented quad-gen workforce (baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z) presents unique challenges for employers who must try to engage all four generations. Although having different backgrounds and histories, all four generations agree on the important of job flexibility and, according to a recent study on the subject by Henley Business School, many believe that a four-day working week is one viable response to the desire for flexibility. Nearly three quarters of the employees surveyed in the Henley study were attracted to a four-day working week, including 69% of employee respondents saying they would enjoy their jobs more with a four-day working week, and 70% believe their mental wellbeing would be improved.
Employees are not the only ones who see the benefit of the four-day working week. Of the employers surveyed, 75% believed offering flexible hours to the quad-gen workforce was important for the success of their businesses — and 50% had already enabled some kind of four-day working week for some or all of their staff. The benefits, according to the survey results, were striking:
The positive response to the concept of a four-day working week is not unanimous however. Many employers are concerned about the impact on the customer. According to the survey, 82% of the employers who did not offer a four-day working week believed that making employees available to the customer was more important than work flexibility. (The employers of those businesses disagreed: only 21% believed availability to customers would be affected, and 25% believed they were forced to stay in the office unnecessarily.)
Concern about customer impact was highest in small businesses, where 91% believed a four-day working would adversely affect availability for customers.
In addition, 73% believed that a four-day working week would be too complicated to implement and manage. The survey revealed some of the issues linked to implementing the new hours — including who (employer or employee) would choose the day off, and whether the change would entail reducing the total number of hours or compressing the current five-day hours into four.
Employers were not the only ones concerned. Nearly half of employees (45%) wondered whether they might be seen as lazy if they accepted a four-day working week, and 35% were concerned about handing their task to colleagues.
For some employers, the four-day working week would exacerbate differences among generations, rather than achieving, as proponents argue, a harmonious workplace with all generations satisfied. For example, younger employees might be attracted to the company with the promise of a four-day working week while current (older generation) employees continue working five days. Already 38% of employers, according to the survey, believed having multiple generations in the workplace was a source of conflict — and with 39% of employees saying that they were misunderstood by other generations, the concern of employers was understandable. In addition, some argue, a four-day working week would only keep employees apart for longer periods of time, exacerbating any underlying tension.
The study was based on a survey of more than 500 UK business leaders and nearly 2100 UK employees, across a variety of industries and companies of different sizes.
The multi-generational workplace is unavoidable today. Business leaders must find solutions that encourage cooperation and harmony among generations while addressing their different needs and desires.
A less jarring approach would be to consider a range of options rather than focus on one major initiative. In other words, the four-day working week could be one of a number of different flexible working arrangements and other initiatives intended to meet the needs of the different generations.
Initiatives to offer greater autonomy in the choice of technology — the generations have different expectations related to technology — is another area in which businesses can adapt to the multi-generational workforce. Any initiative, including a four-day working week, will have different applications to the different generations. While baby boomers and Gen Xers are more likely to spend a day off with family or for leisure activities, members of the millennial and Gen Z generations will use the time to acquire new skills for their personal interest. Businesses can help these younger generations acquire new skills, or apply newly acquired skills to their jobs.
One area in which all generations share to a great extent the same expectations is in an employer’s values, which must be aligned with their own values. For example, many employees across the generations want work that will have a positive impact on society.
Four Better or Four Worse? James Walker & Rita Fontinha. Henley Business School White Paper (July 2019).
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