The importance of work to our lives cannot be understated. It is the means by which we keep a roof over our heads. It can provide a sense of identity and sets the very cadence of our daily routines – from morning commutes to lunch breaks and the importance of the weekend.
The pandemic impacted upon the work lives of many – some lost their jobs, while others suddenly found themselves working remotely and engaging via videoconference. Now, as the pandemic wanes and (hopefully) ends, it is worthwhile for employers to consider the type of workplace they want to provide and why.
In-office, remote and hybrid models
On the one hand, we see companies like Tesla demanding a complete return to the physical office and the traditional 9-5. Various media outlets recently reported on a leaked policy to this effect, in which Tesla’s owner, Elon Musk, advised company executives that “anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla.”
Other employers, such as Shopify, have embraced the concept of remote work, shunning the idea of returning to a physical office space and lauding, amongst other things, its potential environmental benefits, flexibility and talent retention.
A recent study by Ernst & Young also highlights the apparent importance of flexibility to individuals. Having surveyed 16,000 employees across 16 countries, in multiple sectors and job roles, more than 50% of respondents indicated they would consider quitting their job unless their employer offered flexibility in where and when they work.
Other highlights of this survey were that 67% of respondents believed their productivity could be accurately measured irrespective of location and 33% wanted a shorter work week.
Less work for the same pay?
Against this backdrop, a large-scale UK pilot project has been launched. According to a recent BBC article, around 70 employers are taking part in a 6-month experiment with thousands of employees working a 4-day week while continuing to be paid full-time wages. The participating employers vary considerably – from software developers to breweries.
The owner of a participating employer noted that:
The pandemic’s made us think a great deal about work and how people organise their lives. We’re doing this to improve the lives of our staff and be part of a progressive change in the world that will improve people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Labour costs can be significant and must make sense within a global budget. As such, some employers may be offput by the notion of paying 100% of an employee’s wages in exchange for 80% of the work. It appears, at a superficial level, to be a poor bargain: paying the same and getting less in return.
This assumption, however, ignores the reality of low productivity in certain roles, and the old adage of work expanding to fill the time. Rather than a lower return, those monitoring the project expect to see benefits for employers and employees alike, with a workforce that is more motivated, focused, happier, and efficient. Where employees are happy and efficient, there is likely to be beneficial side-effects for employers, such as better morale, stronger retention, and improved attendance.
While a reduced work week will be impractical in some settings, employers should use the post-pandemic period as a time of opportunity, to improve their productivity and their workplaces. The notion of a five-day work week is a century-old system; it is one way of doing things, not the only way.
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