Boosting flexibility at work through changes such as a four-day week may both raise productivity and reverse the growing trend toward burnout, according to a panel of experts at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The idea of shortened workweeks has gained traction since the Covid pandemic shook up staff schedules and gave many a glimpse of how different ways of working could improve their lives.
A study coordinated by nonprofit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global involving dozens of companies showed a reduction in stress and anxiety, and gains in efficiency and revenue, said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. People also exercised more and slept better.
“We’re running quickly into a burnout society,” Dutch Labor Minister Karien van Gennip told the panel. “We saw it during Covid already, but it started before. It can be through social media, through the always-on culture that we have.”
Flexibility is one answer to mental health issues, she said. This might include stretching out a career in order to be able to work less during certain years to be able to look after small children or aging parents before picking up the pace again.
A four-day workweek for everyone may also help to make women, who often work two or three days, more financially independent and lead men to help more with providing care, she added.
Offering staff options such as a four-day week “is a business imperative,” said Sander van ’t Noordende, chief executive officer of employment services provider Randstad NV.
“Why? Because the talent is scarce and you almost start to treat your talent as your customer,” he said. “People have options.”
He said 50% of people say they’re willing to quit if they’re not happy in their jobs.
“Work-life balance is a critical thing that people are looking for,” he said. “Business needs to step it up.”
Right to Disconnect
Faced with challenges such as climate change, the transition to cleaner energies and healthcare for an aging population, slashing the traditional workweek can only be successful if productivity increases, Gennip added.
“I strongly believe that when you have more time off, you will be more productive in the hours that you work,” she said. This requires investment in people and technology, as well as changes to work culture.
Not everyone wants shorter weeks, however, according to UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman. Some employees would rather have a five-day work week and have six weeks off a year, for example.
She said increased monitoring and surveillance linked to home working had led to dissatisfaction among white collar workers, adding that “the right to disconnect is really important.”