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    Are four-day work-weeks, flexible hours the future of full-time?

    AP – A four-day work-week sounds appealing to workers. Possibly alarming to employers.

    A bill introduced in the California legislature earlier this year proposed a regular pay rate for 32 hours of work per week, with overtime kicking in after that. The measure stalled in committee for a lack of broad support but could resurface in 2023.

    Meanwhile, 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit foundation associated with Oxford University, is piloting a six-month trial of a four-day work-week “with no loss of pay for employees”. More than three dozen companies in the United States (US) and Canada are participating in the experiment, with a total of 150 organisations and 7,000 employees involved worldwide.

    Of more than 1,000 US adult employees surveyed by research firm Qualtrics in January, 92 per cent said they would support their employer going to a four-day work-week; 79 per cent of them said it would help mental health, and 82 per cent said it would make them more productive. Will more employers embrace the change?

    THE CHANGE CAN BE CHALLENGING

    “I’ve always been curious about burnout. It truly affects those that should be thriving,” said CEO of ConsciousWorks Lisa Belanger. She consults with businesses on workplace well-being.

    In her quest to find “how work is meant to be”, she decided to explore a four-day work-week herself. Results have been mixed, at best, she said.

    A woman typing on a laptop on a train in New Jersey. PHOTO: AP

    “I think I’ve failed so far in my own personal experiment,” Belanger said. Business travel plans or other work-related responsibilities often interrupted her Day Five off.

    “One of the reasons it’s so challenging for me, and most people, to do a four-day work-week is other people are working on that fifth day, so you’re getting email and you’re getting pulled in,” Belanger said.

    ALTERING CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR AND EXPECTATIONS

    “People are realising that while this might be an intriguing or interesting idea, there’s probably some trade-offs,” said head of employee experience advisory services at Qualtrics Benjamin Granger. He said the company’s research indicates concerns regarding customer frustration if staffing changes have an impact on response time.

    Widespread adoption would have to reach critical mass, where companies believe they have to adopt a shorter work-week to compete in the workforce, he added. And consumer behaviour and customer expectations and services would need to be reshaped.

    If it’s not a four-day work-week, there are other levers to pull when it comes to workplace flexibility, Granger said.

    Those could include perks that make a job more attractive, like choosing the hours you want to work rather than the usual nine-to-five, or the ability to run errands during the workday.

    FEW EMPLOYEES WOULD BE WILLING TO TAKE A PAY CUT

    Less than four in 10 (37 per cent) of the employees surveyed by Qualtrics would be willing to take a five per cent or more pay cut for a four-day work-week.

    But nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of those surveyed said a four-day work-week would mean they would have to work longer days.

    However, 10-hour days often aren’t childcare friendly. And if a company offers to pay for only four days of eight hours each, it could indicate a shorter work-week might be the result of a company trying to reduce expenses.

    CONSIDERING THE TRADE-OFFS

    “I think there is a lot of work and research that an organisation has to do before it pulls the trigger on this,” Granger said.

    A four-day work-week – or other workplace flexibility – might begin with a series of discussions. If there is interest on both sides of the payroll, Granger suggested an analysis, “Look statistically at the factors that people would be willing to trade off, and would it be worth it to them?”

    If interest remains strong, the organisation could run a pilot programme with a small group of employees before a wider rollout.

    If a four-day work-week isn’t in your near future, Belanger offered ideas for employees to possibly seek – and employers to consider:

    – Occasional extended weekends off. Belanger said this allows time away without the stressful “work is piling up while I’m away” feeling during longer vacations.

    – A meeting-free Friday or a reduction in the number of meetings.

    – Email, instant messaging or texting hiatuses. “Telepressure” the compulsion to quickly respond to work-related messages of any kind – is a real thing, Belanger said.

    “You need a couple of hours every single day where you’re wholly not working – 100 per cent not working,” for mental health, she added.

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