A four-day workweek

When you think about it there is a lot of ‘wastage’ in a typical 40-hour, five-day working week

Plenty of studies have shown the benefits of working four-day weeks
Plenty of studies have shown the benefits of working four-day weeks

Kevin-James Fenech is the founder and owner of JOB Search - jobsearch.mt and FENCI Consulting fenci.eu.

As radical as it may sound, the trend out there is for companies to opt for shorter working weeks with same pay. The idea is that employees tend to be more productive and committed to the business.

When you think about it there is a lot of ‘wastage’ in a typical 40-hour, five-day working week.

People clearly do not work all their contractual hours; probably its more likely that they work (at best) circa 30 hours but still are paid for 40 hours. Let’s be brutally frank, how many times have you stayed at work till 5pm/6pm so as to be seen honouring your ‘working hours’ but in reality, you could easily have left work earlier and still produced the same amount of quality work?

The technical term HR specialists and psychologists use to describe this phenomenon is ‘The Hawthorne effect’.

Research in fact shows that shorter working weeks directly contributes to better productivity levels (in the region of 20-30%); statistically employees tend to take less sick leave (currently one out of every four days of sick leave is due to overwork); and employee engagement levels improve markedly.

The Guardian newspaper, recently reported that Britons work a full four weeks more than your average German worker but are comparatively less productive.

The same newspaper even quantified the productivity levels of different nationalities, claiming Germans and Americans produce GDP worth $60.50 per hour and $64.10 per hour respectively whilst the UK worker produces $53.50.

Furthermore, the Institute for Labour Economics claim that productivity levels tend to fall after the 35th hour of work in any given week. Additionally, research by the UK’s Independent newspaper claims that 12.5 million work days were lost in 2016 due to work-related stress, anxiety or depression.

Yet the local ‘employer’ reaction to a four-day working week is overall negative; and that’s putting it mildly. The perception out there is that the country’s productivity levels would diminish and render our economy uncompetitive.

The complaint is that this would be the surest way to increase costs without any gain in productivity.

What some people don’t realise or appreciate however, is that France introduced a 35-hour working week almost 20 years ago. Whereas successful countries such as Germany (35 hours a week), Denmark (33 hours), Norway (33 hours), Ireland (34 hours) and Netherlands (29 hours), all have on average shorter working weeks than we do in Malta.

For more information, refer to the OECD web site which gives you a breakdown of average annual hours worked per country.

Personally, I am a big advocate of the four-day working week. I see more upside than downside. People do not have to take the same day; it can be a Monday, Wednesday or Friday; meaning the business still has five-day coverage.

The ‘dayoff’ can be used to do personal errands thereby allowing people to truly enjoy the weekend, it can be used to learn (upskill) and/or it can be used to charge ones’ batteries so as to go to work fresher and energised.

I say this because I find the concept of a 40-hour working week as outdated. Actually, I think measuring productivity in terms of working hours is senseless. Sure accountants love it but an employee can give you 45 hours per week and be less productive than someone giving you 38 to 40 hours. Fact.

I also think that value is created in quality time worked and not quantity time worked. My point is, why does it have to be eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks? I reckon we have been looking at it all wrong.

From my experience in management consultancy, the great companies that achieve great things have one thing in common: a highly-motivated group of capable people following the same vision.

Therefore, the role of business leaders is to create the optimum conditions to achieve this. Now, if a shorter more productive working week means your people are more engaged, committed and capable of generating more value, who cares whether they work 45, 40 or 32 hours?

Working hours as a form of productivity measurement is prehistoric; we should focus on the output and not the input of work!

Unfortunately, it is still a hard sell locally and I suspect it will take us another five years to emulate Germany, Denmark, Norway, Ireland and Netherlands.

Granted, some firms are toying with finishing early on a Friday or providing generous flexible working hours which is something in the right direction but I still think we should be bold and go the full hog.

Henry Ford had the courage and foresight in 1914 to double the average wage of his employees (from $2.34 to $5 per day) and to reduce the working day from nine to eight hours.

Nearly everyone described this solitary move as crazy and predicted he would go bankrupt.

Yet sales increased from 308,000 Model Ts in 1914 to 501,000 a year later and by 1920, Ford was selling a million cars per annum. Food for thought!

I am sure that a four-day week can be equally as positive in the world of business.

We just need our leaders to have the courage to go for it.

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