The results are in. There can be no doubt now that a four-day work week positively impacts both employee wellbeing and the bottom line.
So why is there still such a reluctance to break free from outdated workplace traditions, and what would a four-day week mean for those who have statistically born the brunt of the most recent post-covid workplace disruptions – women?
According to a recent survey by Hays, 93% of employers and employees think a four-day work week is a good idea, after the overwhelmingly positive conclusion of the UK pilot, which saw no loss in pay for employees working four days instead of five.
The study showed that although 92% of professionals state that a four-day week has had a positive impact on their home life and 84% say it has had a positive impact on their professional life, only 17% of employers are currently considering changing to a four-day week. This figure rises to a more healthy 1/3, as long as employees would be ‘spending those four days in the workplace’. But how has hybrid working influenced women’s working experiences since the pandemic began, and could this be a potential red flag when it comes to positive workplace transformation?
Societal expectations and their continuing influence
It’s been a funny old turn of events for women in the workplace since covid. On the one hand, the transition to more flexible, hybrid work environments has meant that many women, who still bear the brunt of juggling familial and domestic responsibilities with employment duties, have found more freedom to, well ‘juggle’. But this in itself has led to huge levels of burnout and higher stress levels, and the highest drop out of the female workforce in decades. Not only that, but women have faced multiple challenges when re-entering employment, facing issue such as the continuing gender pay gap, less opportunities for promotion, and less avenues to reach executive and board level across many industries.
Redressing the balance
I believe a four-day week has the opportunity to create a space for many more women in the workplace to reach their full potential. Hear me out!
Firstly, not only would it allow women more time to balance out (currently) much-depleted energy and resources, it would also mean that there would be no punishment for doing so, such as loss of earnings or opportunity. Currently, many women across our workforces experience penalisation in these areas in order to accommodate societal expectations levied upon them. Secondly, having more free time has been statistically shown to increase creativity, motivation, productivity and wellbeing. Just think how much more innovation could be harnessed from professional women returning to the workplace with all of the above ingredients!
So how do we use the four-day week as an opportunity to redress the balance? As ever, it comes down to building a bigger awareness and an honest acknowledgement of existing societal bias, and how this currently impacts women unfairly, coupled with a desire to truly create effective change.
It’s also important to highlight that it’s not just women who could benefit. A four-day week has the potential to create equilibrium across the board, with more free time for male workers to devote to their families and outside work activities, and an acceptance that less time in the workplace does not equate to less productivity. Up to now there has been a subtle inference towards women who juggle their time between workplace and familial responsibility that their time is less valuable and therefore less remunerable. With a blanket four-day week, it will become even more apparent that this simply is not the case.
The four-day week has the potential to create a quiet but potent shift change across our societies, and could break grounds in equity that have so far not been explored or contemplated. And I, for one, cannot wait.
This piece was originally written for Women in Social Housing Spring Newsletter in March 2023.