Is the 4-Day Week a Realistic Option for Finance Professionals?

The world of work has changed immensely over the past few decades. Vertical management structures have flattened, CEOs have become more approachable, maternity and paternity leave has expanded, and there is a sense that employers care about their staff more now than ever before.

Below Nic Redfern, Finance Director at Know Your Money, discusses the potential for a four-day work week and how that could work in today’s busy working environment, particularly for the finance sector.

Despite the above changes, there are some aspects of work that have remained somewhat constant, and one of those is the 5-day 9 to 5 working week. This makes sense. The 9-5 offers a relatively good balance for allowing workers time to rest, and for employers to reach maximal productivity.

However, technological advancements have changed the way in which employees are able to connect to their offices. Laptops, smartphones, and of course, the internet have transformed workplace connectivity, so employees can connect with their offices at any location, at any time. Thus, people are now beginning to question whether the regimented 9-to-5 working day is fit for purpose.

The rise of flexible working

With this challenge has come the rise of flexible working; an approach which grants employees greater freedom to organise their own working day. It has clearly grown in popularity amongst the UK’s workforce. Indeed, in a recent survey of 2,000 UK adults in fulltime employment, Know Your Money revealed that 71% of people believe that flexible working is highly important to their overall job satisfaction.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, flexible working can be adjusted to meet the various needs of individual employees. For some it may mean coming into work later in the day to do the school run or working at home to avoid a long commute. For these individuals, flexible working can provide a huge help. Evidence also suggests that flexible working doesn’t just benefit the individual. Indeed, the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development recently released new guidance on flexible working which cited numerous cases where employees experiences boosts in morale, motivation and productivity as a result of the policy. Thus, one could infer that the flexible working revolution is definitely blazing the trail for employee wellbeing.

However, over the last few months, particular attention has been drawn to an alternative working structure: the four-day working week. This concept has gained momentum amongst many employees, the aforementioned research from Know Your Money revealing that three quarters of survey respondents would be in favour working additional hours over four days if it meant having the fifth away from the office.

But will it work in reality?

It is possible to see the attraction of a four-day working week. Firstly, an additional day away from the office provides employees the opportunity to create a healthier work-life balance. What’s more, there is also a business case in favour of the system. Trials in New Zealand and Microsoft Japan have shown that productivity can improve significantly with a reduced working week – as well as improving working morale.

However, it’s not going to be an easy policy to adopt, and various issues could present themselves throughout implementation.

Firstly, it would be wrong to assume that the four-day week is merely an extension of flexible working. Whilst some employees might assume that it will mean they can dictate their own working week – for example, not working at all on Fridays or stretching out their hours over seven days rather than condensing them into four days – the reality will be very different. Managers will find it impossible to implement numerous structures which simultaneously ensure employees work the exact hours they want and maintaining business performance. So, in reality, it is likely that four-day working weeks would create greater regimentation within the workplace, therefore undermining the principle of flexible working.

In reality, it is likely that four-day working weeks would create greater regimentation within the workplace, therefore undermining the principle of flexible working.

Further, the adoption of flexible working would require a massive overhaul of the working structure of a business. This would inevitably require major financial and resource commitments, which some organisations might not be able to provide. So, whilst at face value it may seem easy to assume the policy would simply mean closing the office for an extra day, the reality is far more complex.

So, what are the next steps for companies?

The most important thing to remember is that your workforce is the life and soul of your operation, without which you would not be able to operate. To retain and embolden them, adaptation might be necessary; indeed, more than one in four (28%) of the workforce have left their company over the last 12 months because the role was not flexible enough. So, open and honest discussions between employees and employers are vital. Only then will managers be able to understand the needs of their workforce.

After careful consideration, it is them up to decision makers to consider what kind of flexible working, or week length, is right for them. As with all business decisions, it will not be a case of one size fits all. To assume as much could ultimately harm employee satisfaction, and overall business performance.

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