People have been clamouring for us to collectively rethink the working week for decades. 

However, after the emergence of COVID-19 and the manner in which it rapidly changed the world, companies and, more importantly, their staff, now know it’s possible to do their job without having to come into the office every day. In fact, although it may not have been ideal, many companies carried on their operations without their employees stepping into the office for months. 

So, with many assumptions about where employees need to work being proven wrong, it makes complete sense that many of us, employees and employers alike, are starting to challenge assumptions about when we work – and for how long.

With all of the above in mind, this post delves into the question of whether it’s time to rethink the working week. 

Why is it a good idea to rethink the working week?

There are two main reasons why it’s an opportune time to reconsider our present working week, with the first being that it’s simply outdated. Now, although the idea of ‘5 days on, 2 days off’ stretches as far back as early 1800s, industrial-age England, the conventional 5-day, 40-hour work week was popularised by Henry Ford in 1926 and took off during the Great Depression to combat unemployment. 

By reducing the working week from 6 days to 5, there were more hours to go around and fewer people would have to be laid off. The 5-day week became law by the 1940s and throughout the 1960s, an increasing number of countries followed suit. 

So, despite the rapid advancements in technology since then, we’re still operating under an idea that, at best, is about to turn 100. 

However, just as the Great Depression did, maybe it was going to take something drastic to make us re-examine how we worked; this brings us to the second reason for why it’s an ideal time to rethink the working week – the pandemic.  

Just as the world has changed as a result of COVID-19, so have people, with many of us having an unprecedented chance to reassess our priorities. Despite the strong desire for life to go back to how it was, for many people, this does not extend to their jobs. 

Having a taste of being able to do their jobs without actually having to step foot in their workplace, many people prefer working remotely.  And it’s not just employees that feel this way – lots of companies have seen the advantages of virtual teams too. 

Alternatives to the traditional working week

So now we’ve established why it could be a good idea to rethink the current working week, the question is, what are the alternatives? Here are three potential options:

Flexible working

Perhaps the simplest solution is the widespread adoption of the flexible working practices that some companies already offer. This would see employees not only having greater influence over where they work but when they work. Companies could require their employees to work a specified number of hours and be flexible in how their staff fulfils that obligation. 

4-day work week 

This option would see employees working an entire day less each week. Now, on one hand, companies might implement this by completely doing away with the 5th day. On the other hand, they might simply spread the 5th day’s hours over the remaining 4 working days – so employees work longer hours. 

Fewer hours per day 

An alternative to the 4-day work week is retaining the 5-day model, but reducing the hours worked each day. This was attempted as an experiment at the Svartedalens retirement home in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. Some of the nurses employed there had their working day reduced to 6 hours, while still being paid for 8-hours.

In the end, the nurses that participated in the trial took half as many sick days as their colleagues working normal shifts. Better still, they reported feeling happier, healthier, and more energetic.  

Benefits of rethinking the week 

Here are some of the potential advantages of changing the working week. 

  • Employee health: With an improved work-life balance, employees are less likely to fall ill. Similarly, having more time off to recharge, as well as spending less time commuting, will benefit staff’s mental health.  
  • Productivity: With more time off, employees are likely to do more when they’re actually working – and will have the physical and mental capacity to engage more with their work. 
  • Costs: Changing the working week can present companies with many opportunities to lower their costs. This includes a reduction (or elimination) of rent costs, lower utility bills, and, in some cases, reduced salaries. 
  • Staff morale: If employees have greater influence over their working day and enjoy the benefits that go along with that, then they’re going to be happier overall. Their improved morale will have a positive effect on your company culture. 

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