As a result, many corporations and global businesses are now looking at creative ways of battling the COVID pandemic, while ditching the traditional five-day week for their staff. Looking at the success of a four-day working week and the potential obstacles that lie ahead, we spoke to Rita Fontinha, an Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy at the Henley Business School, at the University of Reading.
Sputnik: Some transnational companies have already started to implement a four-day working week; how has it looked so far?
Rita Fontinha: That's right. Some multinational companies, for example, such as Microsoft and its subsidiary in Japan, have started to trial the four-day working week and that means working four days and keeping the same salary; so taking the Fridays off, and they actually found productivity increased 40 percent during the trial period. That was in the summer of 2019 and we have other cases like, for example, Unilever in New Zealand - they're currently implementing a four-day working week as a 12-month trial for their 81 staff in this country, and they have already started reporting some increases in productivity.
Sputnik: Have UK businesses started to experiment with a four-day working week and has there been any positive results so far?
Rita Fontinha: We have started to implement the four-day working week here in the UK. So, we have seen that UK businesses have started to implement it to some extent. It might not be necessary to the entire workforce. The survey that we ran at Henley Business School targeted almost 500 businesses in the UK, and 32.8 percent of them had already implemented the four-day working week to some extent in their workforce. This happens more in medium or larger companies, so we see that micro and smaller firms are adopting it less frequently. We also surveyed more than 2000 employees, and we found that those that already have the four-day working week show important improvements in terms of their wellbeing. Overall, employee satisfaction has improved, sickness absence has reduced, and we have a calculated savings of almost £92 billion every year. So that's 2 percent of the turnover, so that's a lot.
Sputnik: And is a shorter working week the answer to more productivity, and possibly lower unemployment?
Rita Fontinha: It can be one solution. We have seen that a shorter working week could be a solution to lower unemployment. It has been used in the past during the Great Depression of the Thirties, and it is currently being discussed in countries such as Spain, for example, where the unemployment rates are very high - so this is something that's being discussed at present by the government. Our findings regarding productivity show that there has been a strong link with productivity. So, we would say it can be one answer, one type of answer. It may not be the answer for every business in the UK - there are other forms of flexibility that can also be considered, especially now that the pandemic has changed the paradigm regarding the way we see work, and people work a lot remotely that can be considered as well, and other forms of flexibility could be considered. This is one way though and one important consideration.
Sputnik: And are there any obstacles to a four-day week?
Rita Fontinha: Yes, there are. Some businesses are still very reluctant regarding the four-day working week and that’s basically businesses where there's a lot of face-to-face interaction with customers, so a lot of customer service, and this is also a matter of implementations and perceived justice in the workforce.
So, for example, a company that may have people working very frequently with customers, but other people/other employees that do not need such a strong interaction, maybe for those it would be easier to implement and for the ones with customer interaction, it may be harder. So, it's a matter of justice and about implementation within the organisation.
We also see one other issue, which has to do with the fact that we now have very, very flexible jobs and that people actually work more than their recommended hours, let's say a lot of people work during weekends. So, it's a matter of asking whether it really is four days that people are working. So, it is a matter of implementation. We do see that these are important obstacles but we also do see that there might be important ways to overcome it, and we give some suggestions on that - especially regarding the engagement of line managers and of different stakeholders within the organisation. It can be one important solution. It doesn't mean that it's the solution for every organisation in the UK, but it is something to consider.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.