By John Salak –
There is no secret that the pandemic fueled radical changes in the work environment. Remote working was a necessity. Now, workers of all types are reluctant to return to a traditional, in-office experience five days a week even as some companies push for this in the post-Covid 19 world.
The issue facing businesses and their workers is whether there is common ground and whether there is any benefit to permanently loosening up work rules. Recent reports indicate that flexible work situations might benefit everyone involved with what’s occurring in the “real world.”
Amazon employees, for example, are fighting a corporate mandate to show up at their respective offices at least three days a week beginning in May. These disgruntled workers refute corporate claims that in-office work promotes essential collaboration. Instead, they report that the call to return has “shattered their trust” in the company’s leaders. Companies such as Disney and Starbucks, among others, are also demanding workers return to sites.
Changing directions for these companies is expected to be logistically hard if the response by Amazon’s workers is any indication. It may also be counterproductive and possibly stress-inducing for their workforces.
Ernst & Young underscored the dilemma in its recent EY Future Workplace Index. The survey reported that more than 70 percent of employees work from home at least two to three days a week, up significantly from the previous year.
The study also noted that almost two-thirds of the executives queried for the report said they believe flexible work schedules attract and motivate workers. In line with this, 40 percent of the companies surveyed claimed they started four-day weekly work schedules or will implement them shortly.
It could be a smart move, as there may be significant corporate benefits of flexible work schedules. The shift to these flexible approaches, particularly four-day work periods, not only may stand to reduce overhead costs, it may even improve productivity even if there are fewer actual work hours. It was at least the takeaway from an extensive study by Britain’s Cambridge University.
The study involved 61 organizations cutting work hours but not total wages by 20 percent over six months. The vast majority of the companies involved maintain their productivity targets despite the reduction in working hours.
The results were surprising across the board. Over 71 employees reported lower levels of burnout during this period, while almost 40 percent said they were less stressed during a four-day workweek compared to the traditional mode.
The program also reported a 65 percent reduction in sick days and a 57 percent drop in staff leaving the participating companies for jobs elsewhere.
Cambridge reported that combined revenues for the companies increased marginally during this period, up 1.4 percent compared to the same year-earlier period.
The improved productivity increased revenues and enhanced employee morale, not surprisingly, won over many of the participating companies. More than 90 percent of the groups reported continuing the four-day work weeks for the foreseeable future.
The benefits to employees were also widespread, as many reported that they found it easier to maintain a balanced life. 60 percent reported it helped them combine work with family care responsibilities and 62 percent said it enhanced their ability to blend work with social life.
“Before the trial, many questioned whether we would see an increase in productivity to offset the reduction in working time—but this is what we found,” said sociologist Brendan Burchell, a Cambridge professor and co-leader of the research.
“Many employees were very keen to find efficiency gains themselves. Long meetings with too many people were cut short or ditched completely. Workers were much less inclined to kill time and actively sought technologies that improved their productivity,” he added.
Employees noted the change also improved their work culture by making them feel more valued by their employers through a shared sense to make the four-day week successful.
The four-day workweek trial is not a fix for all industries, nor will it address the reluctance of some employees to return to their offices regularly under any circumstances. It demonstrates the potential mental health benefits and corporate gains through varied levels of work flexibility.