Corporate Wellness

Four-day Workweek May Not be the Answer; Designing the Optimal Schedule to Maximize Employee Engagement

Tanya Little
Chief Commercial Officer
Vitality US
Employee Engagement

At the start of this decade, few would have predicted the massive shift in the workplace from in-office to hybrid or fully remote that continues to morph as organizations navigate a post-pandemic environment. While hybrid is the new normal for many, big questions still remain. Leaders are scratching their heads to find solutions to best balance business-as-usual demands with the need to foster innovation and culture, all while meeting employees’ needs for flexibility and maximizing engagement.

The four-day workweek has garnered much attention with the release of the results of a six-month pilot study of over 30 companies and nearly 1,000 workers. The study showed overwhelmingly positive results, with 97% of workers wanting to continue with a four-day workweek. Employees reported lower levels of stress, fatigue, insomnia and burnout, and improvements in physical and mental health. Importantly, they did not report an increase in the intensity of their work due to the shortened schedule. Participating organizations also reported positive impacts on productivity and performance, with a 38% average increase in revenue and none of the participating companies plan to return to their former five-day week.

So, is the four-day workweek the obvious answer for employers and employees alike?

The answer may not be quite so simple. We know that employees overwhelmingly want to work when they want, where they want, and how they want. But this implies a need for more flexibility and autonomy and a schedule that’s personalized to them, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. We know that working fewer days per week can work well for some teams and/or organizations. But for others, a standard four-day workweek may be neither practical nor desirable – for example client-facing teams or those with cyclically busy seasons, such as sales and finance. Even within teams, some employees may prefer to work differently from their peers. Working parents may prefer to work while their children are in school or after they are asleep at night, while blocking time in the early mornings and early evenings for family responsibilities. Some employees may prioritize the regularity of a Friday or Monday off work to facilitate weekend adventures, whereas others may prefer longer and less regular breaks that enable them to switch off from work more fully.

In this context, mandating a blanket four-day workweek may be somewhat inflexible. Employers should instead seek to enable maximum flexibility, by listening intently to what employees signal they need and want to perform at their peak. There is no panacea, and there will be trade-offs. But it seems clear that those who will be most successful in unlocking employee engagement will recognize the importance of solving for both when we work, as well as how we work. Thinking critically about how many meetings we attend each week and the efficiency of those meetings can have an outsized impact on employee engagement.

Enabling employees to align their schedules with the type of work they need to get done on a certain day will boost effectiveness. Multiple work environments, with smart coordination, can allow for focus time or heads-down work to be done at home, while more collaborative work can take place on in-office days. And it’s undeniable that there is also likely a place for mandated company-wide focused time that supports culture and performance. As an example, Vitality has implemented “No Meeting Fridays” to allow employees to finish up their work for the current week and plan for the week ahead so they can fully disconnect on the weekends. We’ve also enshrined “Recharge Hour,” a protected lunch hour that can be used for whatever is important to an employee on that given day – whether it is socializing with colleagues, devoting time to wellness activities, such as working out, preparing a healthy meal or running household errands.

Fewer mandatory workdays may not be the most practical answer for all teams in all organizations. But it doesn’t have to be. The answer lies in providing flexibility to ensure individuals can get their jobs done in a way that best suits them. And doing so thoughtfully, to ensure the resulting configurations strengthen, rather than hurt, the organizational culture and purpose that give people meaning and keep them connected.

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