Hybrid working practices formed in the crucible of the pandemic are changing when and where we work. The stakes are high. The so-called Great Resignation or Great Re-evaluation spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic is prompting high attrition, record pay awards, and deepening skills shortages. Employees want meaningful work with employers whose purpose makes sense to them. They also want to feel valued, cared for and like they can progress.
Critics of the five-day week say this cornerstone of working life is no longer fit for purpose in post-industrial economies of the twenty-first century, linking it to poor wellbeing and productivity.
Instead, hybrid working patterns that combine the flexibility of working hours with where we work are shaking up the working week as we emerge from Covid-19 restrictions in many parts of the world and return to “business as normal”. So much so that last year, data from HR software provider CharlieHR suggested fewer than 5% of SMEs would return to the nine-five/five-day week post lockdown.
A significant amount of research also shows that a majority of employees would consider leaving their employer if their option to work from home was removed. In the workplace, organisations of all sizes and representing diverse sectors are arguing the case – and indeed piloting – a four-day working week: Microsoft, Unilever, Morrisons and Durham-based online challenger bank Atom among them.
After being on the horizon for at least a decade, the reality of the four-day week movement is now with us. It’s easy to see why. The benefits resonate with many key issues in today’s workplaces: wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability, purpose, and performance. From an environmental perspective alone, if the UK moved to a four-day week by 2025, emissions would shrink by 127 million tonnes, or 20%, helping the country to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals. In February, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, followed governments in Scotland and Ireland to advocate a shorter working week trial for Wales. “It’s clear that following the pandemic, people across Wales are re-evaluating their priorities in life and looking for a healthier work-life balance.”Highlighting the escalating demands of caring for loved ones due to an aging population and an increase in mental health issues exacerbated by working long hours, Sophie Howe added “a shorter working week can result in increased productivity, which will be of huge benefit to employers for a happier, healthier workforce.”
If not managed well and without an appropriate supporting culture, compressing hours into fewer days can lead to employee burnout and higher stress levels. Scheduling challenges in production and manufacturing for example may also mean working four-day weeks is simply not possible for all employees. Staying connected with colleagues can be a further challenge in hybrid and reduced hours working, which can counter other positive impacts.
While the four-day week clearly has its benefits and can be a game-changer, it is not the only option on the table. Hybrid and other forms of working, such as making all jobs flexible from day one, are other ways to achieve recruitment, retention, well-being, and inclusion outcomes. The HR and people profession has a vital role to play in helping employers develop the right culture and policies and in training managers to support a more flexible workforce.