Why the four-day working week is 'doomed to fail'

It may scream 'flexibility' but the reality is somewhat different

Why the four-day working week is 'doomed to fail'

The four-day work week may be gaining global momentum, but for one culture expert it’s doomed to fail. Alicia Garcia, chief culture officer at software giant MasterControl, told HRD that while a reduced working week might have the echo of flexibility, in reality it’s dictated by rigidity.

“Four-day workweeks usually define the exact days and times employees are required to work,” she told HRD. “When approached by employees, the most common request is ‘flexibility’. It isn’t that employees want to work less - in fact, the typical 40-hour work week isn’t really discussed. Rather, they ask if they can pick up children from school and log back in, take an afternoon exercise class, go on a walk when the day is feeling stressful or attend the kindergarten graduation ceremony that their five-year old has been talking about for months.”

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The four-day work week was something of a HR musing just two years ago. Now, since the chaos and disruption of the pandemic, it seems as if zany new ways of working are all the rage. 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community established by Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, advocates the reduced working week, encouraging businesses to give the strategy a trial run. And while it’s receiving a lot of support from employers and employees, it’s still pretty divisive in HR circles.

And, for Garcia at least, she’s convinced it’s doomed to fail.

“The four-day workweek will fail,” she told HRD. “At least for the modern-day worker who’s been really clear about requesting the flexibility to work hard and be successful in their personal lives. You can’t always get doctor appointments, school performances and that meditation class you’ve desperately needed on the same day each week.”

This preference for flexibility has always been there, however the pandemic turned this ‘nice to have’ into a necessity. Employees are actively leaving their current roles in search for more flexible ones, candidates are only looking for employers that allow total flexibility. In fact, a report from Gartner found that 59% of employees say they’d only consider a new position or job that allows them to work from a location of their choice. What’s more, 64% of workers are more likely to consider a tole that promotes flexible hours compared to one that doesn’t.

And while the idea of the four day week certainly seems like a flexible approach on first glance, is it really a viable, long-term strategy? And will it even work for everyone? 

“Employers will see tremendous benefits and success by trusting employees to schedule flexibility into their work week,” advised Garcia. “It’s moderated by supervisors who’ve lost their power over the years from red-tape-corporate-policies. By trusting your managers to ensure work is covered – and working with their direct reports on important events and appointments they need to attend - you’ll develop your future senior leaders and recruit the very best talent in the market.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re considering implementing a four-day working week then it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons. HRD created a step-by-step guide to assessing whether or not a reduced week would work for you and your team here

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