The idea of a four-day workweek continues to gain popularity. This year, it got another boost when Spain became the latest country to experiment with a shortened workweek. Japan, New Zealand and Iceland have also rolled out similar trials.
It feels like it’s only a matter of time before American companies begin making the move, and it could quickly snowball if others follow suit. Some may even use this to help retain employees during the current trend that has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” In August 2021, 4.3 million Americans resigned from their positions in search of permanent remote settings, flexible hours and higher pay, among other things.
Although a four-day workweek may be cause for celebration, for some, it likely isn’t the one-size-fits-all fix to the work-life balance that workers imagine and desire. In fact, it may not be the right answer at all.
Empower Employees To Fit Work Into Life, Not Life Into Work
No one alive has ever seen a swing in the economy and job market like we’ve seen over the past two years. Today, employees have more power than ever to vote with their feet, and they’re choosing to find the company, career and location that’s right for them. Companies that don’t provide the optimal work environment with an employee-friendly culture will lose their top performers.
Working only four days per week might sound attractive, particularly in the hectic technology industry, but the results could leave employees with less time to take care of life matters and a more stressful workday packed with even more meetings. The negative side of a four-day workweek is that employers will demand more dedication during the four days. Trying to force the out-of-date, nine-to-five workday into a four-day model will have negative repercussions, creating more stress and less time to take care of life as it happens.
Life Does Not Happen One Extra Day A Week
Today’s workers expect more of a life balance, not just a work-life balance. Life doesn’t happen when you’re off work; it happens 24/7. Employers need to get with the program and enable a culture by which employees are empowered to have the flexibility to do what life requires.
It’s not realistic to think if everyone had an extra day off, they’d achieve work-life balance or be able to get all their chores done on their day off. A four-day workweek will limit employees’ ability to take care of their daily life needs, like taking the kids to school, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, working out or running errands.
Guide, Trust And Empower
Companies that trust and empower their employees to take care of life as it happens will have a happier and more productive workforce, which is critical to any company’s success. As they say, a company’s customers are only as happy as their employees. And, thanks to social media, happiness — or the lack thereof — has become quick to proliferate in the public domain.
The most engaged and productive employees understand precisely what’s being asked of them and what success means in their role. They also understand how their job contributes to corporate goals and priorities. In the military, it’s called the Commander’s Intent. Soldiers receive training in their specific roles but success comes when all levels understand the clear objective for a successful mission. When people understand the big picture and plans need to change, as they usually do, people can adapt their priorities and responsibilities to match the company’s main objectives for success.
In servant-based leadership, managers are in place to make their employees successful, not the other way around. Managers should ensure everyone, at every level, has clear job descriptions with the tools and resources to accomplish their tasks. I’ve seen too many examples in which bad managers are unclear on objectives and don’t give employees the resources they need for success — and then blame the employees for not delivering. With the proper knowledge, employees are empowered to get their job done when they’re most productive — not at a specific time or day of the week.
Focus On Life Balance Every Day
It’s great to see the top companies changing their employee benefits to allow people to take work off as life happens. Leading companies are implementing flexible PTO programs to enable people to take off the time they need and provide more generous maternal and paternal leave programs.
Of course, it’s not enough to implement employee-friendly PTO programs — companies have to change their cultures to encourage employees to take time off when needed, so they can stay fresh and energized. PTO should not be accumulated and used as severance when people leave because they’re burnt out — most likely from not taking enough time off.
Companies need to create cultures in which employees can take care of the little things that happen daily. As long as your employees understand what their job is and what success means in their role, allow them to take the time to live life every day and take off when needed — even if it’s during the workday. The burden then falls to management to ensure that everyone understands what’s expected and when.
Pick The Right Company
I’m happy to see people leaving companies that aren’t right for them. It’s time for employees to expect more from companies and not wait around, hoping for better company policies, benefits and culture.
In today’s booming economy, people need to take the time to figure out where they want to be in five, 10 or 15 years, and what company is going to help their career advance while providing the highest quality of life along the way. Work today needs to be a partnership between employees and employers. The most engaged and productive employees will find the companies that appreciate them and help them live a balanced life.