Updated: Sep 8, 2022
It has been the topic of conversation for some time and with Iceland being praised for the new way of working and Ireland looking to trial early 2022, could this really be revolutionary for both the employee and the employer?
Relax and Unwind
If the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is that time is precious. Relationship building at home and making time for hobbies and interests significantly contributes to overall wellbeing. Work cultures are shifting, and workload is increasingly demanding, reducing time spent enjoying life and ultimately leading to employee burnout! Believe it or not, shorter weeks and a stronger work-life balance can massively increase productivity and contribute to a more positive mental state.
Recent research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease than a workweek of 35 to 40 hours. But why is this? Longer working weeks can lead to stress and anxiety. When employees have excessive amounts to do, or feel they are not being recognised for their efforts, stress levels increase. The implications of this are not just physical (e.g. fatigue), but psychological too, as it can affect areas such as memory, decision making and mood. While managing the root cause of the issues would be the preferable approach, relaxing and unwinding can also have positive effects. According to Forbes (2021), holidays and short breaks from work increase mindfulness, contribute to better heart health, reduce stress and boost brain power. Positive state = results!
A reduced week means greater flexibility and a better work life balance. The pandemic allowed for flexibility to be added to workers lives, as a ‘work from home’ culture and ‘flexible hours’ approach became the norm in some industries. But how was this beneficial? Apart from the benefits of a lower carbon footprint from less commuting, it was the start of employees feeling more in control of their own time. The 4-day work week could also improve time management skills across a workforce as staff would need to achieve 5 days work within the shorter time frame. This has been demonstrated in Iceland where 86% of Iceland’s workforce have moved towards shorter working hours without a change in income. According to the BBC, workers are reporting feeling less stressed and burnt out, and have said their health and work-life balance had improved. Additionally they have more time to spend with their families, do hobbies and complete household chores.
What does this mean for employers?
Apart from the pros of reduced carbon footprint, less traffic on the road, a better work life balance and effective time management may result in happier, more productive employees. HBR reported research in 2015 on exactly this, suggesting that spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time. Yes - allowing employees time to step back and spend more time on hobbies and interests has significant benefits. Psychologists have even suggested that without the time and opportunity to do this, neural connections that promote feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, which stops people shifting into less-stressed modes.