How short should a work week get?

03 October, 2018

How short should a work week get?
The Hindu

The Hindu

Across the world, many companies are now introducing a four-day schedule for their employees

An increasing number of companies in India are going in for a five-day week. The question is: Should the work week get shorter still? This is not a revolutionary notion. In many parts of the world, companies are figuring out how to squeeze five days of work into four days.

A company in New Zealand — Perpetual Guardian — has been in the news ever since it successfully tried out a four-days-a-week work schedule this March and April . Employees worked 32 of the regular 40 hours and still managed to accomplish the same amount of work, which encouraged the company to make the four-day week arrangement a permanent one. The best part of the initiative: Employees did not have to take a day’s pay cut on account of reduced work hours.

In Japan, where the corporate world has one of the longest work days, some companies work four days a week. Here, employees are expected to complete the 40 work hours in four days, putting in ten hours every day.

The authors of the book HR Here and Now have made a case for trying out a four-day week based on the example of Beroe Inc., which provides market intelligence to procurement professionals.

In June 2017, Beroe introduced a four-day week to benefit all employees. Since the switch, it has been tracking organisational productivity with what is called ‘Beroe Performance Index’. The index measures performance on two key parameters — client deliverables and feedback on a month-on-month basis.

In a release that has been made available on the company’s website, Vel Dhinagaravel, chief executive officer, Beroe says, “So far, the results have been fantastic and if we continue with the same rhythm we will make this initiative a success. But, if there is a dip on client deliverables we will have to dial the work week back to five days.”

Ganesh Chella, co-founder and managing director, Coaching Foundation of India, says many large companies do offer short work weeks, but that may not be part of a policy. Companies like KPMG, Amazon and Google offer shortened work weeks to employees, but on a selective basis.

A shorter work week helps in many ways. One, it addresses a top concern of millennials, which is achieving work-life balance. Two, it can be an effective austerity measure for a company that is in financial distress. Three, it can be an effective recruitment and retention strategy.

The future workforce

With contingent workforces gaining ground, a four-day work week is certainly not an outlandish idea.

“The fact that a numerically significant section of the workforce wants to do freelance work indicates very clearly that the current long working week of six or five days is getting outdated,” says Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing company.

Many managers agree that on any given day, only four to five hours are actually productive and the remaining time are wasted in distractions.

“If you look at workers availing the work-from-home option, they mostly do it on Fridays or Mondays, which is already translating into a quasi four-day week,” says Karanth.

Senior leadership should demonstrate that efficiency is possible within a shortened time format.

“Organisations need to start with the senior leadership team. If they are coached to demonstrate efficiency with shorter work hours and no evening calls/meets/emails/WhatsApp, the culture will percolate down,” says Karanth.

Bank unions have already been pushing for a five-day week. What about the manufacturing sector, where workforces are large?

“Besides hiring temporary workers or contract staff, automation can address challenges where work has to happen round-the-clock,” says Chella.