Can four-day workweek succeed in work-obsessed America?

CEO of Adaptavist stresses the importance of flexibility to attract and retain talent in 2022

Can four-day workweek succeed in work-obsessed America?

This article was provided by Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of Adaptavist.

A couple of years ago in The Atlantic, an article detailed the history of workism in the United States and how it had morphed into a religious identity for the college-educated elite. It played into many people’s perception of America: a place where the 9-to-5 was more of a guideline than a reality, and taking work home was a nightly ritual for many that had nothing to do with remote work mandates. A pre-pandemic study found that there wasn’t a single large country as productive as the U.S. that averaged as many work hours a year.

Thankfully, events of the last two years like the COVID-19 crisis and the Great Resignation have caused American workers and employers to prioritize work-life balance and mental health. Which begs the question: Could the U.S. labor market buy into a four-day workweek? It’s a debate gaining steam elsewhere, with the U.K. piloting a six-month trial that could significantly impact how and where its employees work in the future. And in Belgium, workers now also have the option to take a three-day weekend if they want to.

Read more: WizeHire CEO weighs pros and cons of four-day workweek

So, is a shortened workweek right for a U.S. organization, or is it just a sign of a lazy, woke culture?

Upending the Traditional 9-to-5

The largest revenue-generating businesses traditionally emphasize hours over results. Law firms are a great example of this. They bill clients by the hour even though time is often a poor value measurement.

A notionally structured week of any sort is suboptimal and certainly an outdated way of doing business, particularly for organizations working with third parties. The new flexible work movement teaches us that the ideal economical solution is to work when your clients and partners need you rather than some arbitrary timetable based on when the sun comes up locally. More desirable is joint flexibility based on achieving value. Achieving combined value means organizations should identify value streams and build a culture where key workplace characteristics are trust, mobility, and agility rather than time.

This approach is undoubtedly the antithesis of the rigid time-based system of 10 years ago. A 2010 UC Davis study found that U.S. corporate managers viewed employees who were seen at the office during business hours as highly “dependable” and “reliable.” Meanwhile, employees who came in over the weekend or stayed late in the evening were “committed” and “dedicated” to their work. This work assessment would never fly with today’s Gen Z and millennial workers, who have their own incredibly distinct characteristics and thrive on flexibility and a work-life balance.

Building the Next-Generation Workplace

With this in mind and considering that these young cohorts are quickly becoming key business decision-makers as baby boomers edge toward retirement, it’s not inconceivable that flexible work schedules – including four-day workweeks – will become a reality. It’s already a reality for employees at Bolt, who, after a successful three-month trial, are now permanently adopting a four-day workweek. According to a post-pilot employee survey, 84% of the fintech unicorn’s employees said they have been more productive, and 86% said they have been more efficient with their time. Additionally, 84% saw an improvement in their work-life balance. Moreover, a spokesperson told Business Insider that job applications were up 30% compared with December.

It’s less likely that a shortened workweek will become mandated. Instead, organizations and the individuals who work for them will choose based on what is right for them and enter emotional contracts that are mutually beneficial. To some, like Bolt, this may be taking a three-day weekend. To others, it may be implementing some other kind of flexible work schedule where employees work the hours needed to deliver the right value and outcomes.

At the same time, enterprises need to uplevel their use of technology to succeed in achieving this agile and autonomous workplace. While every industry has undergone a digital transformation these past two years, studies highlight several inefficiencies jeopardizing productivity amongst employees. For example, research conducted by my firm Adaptavist found that although 61% of U.S. workers understand that the pandemic necessitated their company to adopt new tools and software for distributed work, they’re proving to be the wrong or lesser practical tools. The data point may be unsurprising based on over half (52%) of the same respondents noting they spend a half hour or more each day sifting through these tools for information they need to do their job (e.g. searching emails, chat conversations, etc.).

It’s these inefficiencies that could hinder employers’ ability to successfully implement a four-day workweek or any kind of flexible work schedule for that matter. But with remote work set to remain a viable and desirable option for many workers, addressing these pitfalls will undoubtedly be a top priority for organizations. Once they do this and learn how to maximize the actual benefits of digital workflows, we may hear more stories of companies upending their own traditional 9-to-5s, allowing employees to be more flexible about when they work and how they deliver value.

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