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15 Mar 2023
by Lindsey Berger

Is a four day week a better way to find a work-life balance?

Flexible and remote working have been a great boon to many people, but have also led to an ‘always on’ culture

Is a four day week a better way to find a work-life balance?.jpg


Achieving work-life balance has been the holy grail for generations of office workers.

While remote working has been presented as a the cure-all to achieve this balance, statistics tell a different story. Despite the proliferation of many employee-friendly policies such as remote working, flexible schedules and casual office culture, the stress about work-life balance has not gone away.

Even with the added flexibility, increased push towards ‘mental health self-care’ and balancing personal needs with career responsibilities, recent studies show that millions of people still suffer stress at work.

The statistics are alarming. In the 2022 Gallup study The State of the Global Workplace, 60% of people reported being emotionally detached at work and 19% reported being miserable.

Blue Monday

The average workforce still experiences ‘Monday Blues’ (a feeling of depression or sadness with the start of the working week approaching).

A study by psychologist Alex Gardner shows that the average employee does not smile in the office until 11:16am on Mondays, and even TikTokers have jumped on the bandwagon, with ‘Bare Minimum Mondays’ (doing the absolute minimum amount of work necessary to get through the stress of Mondays at work) going viral.

With this backdrop, how can employers better support their workforce to reduce stress and keep productivity levels up?

Remote work is only part of the solution

While remote working has improved morale and reduced workplace pressure for millions, there are also drawbacks. Perhaps one of the biggest is that it blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, leading to increased pressure for employees to always be available.

Many people feel the need to respond to emails and messages at all hours, leading to a constant feeling of being ‘on call’ and hastening employee burnout. Other employees feel stressed even while working from home because they are simultaneously trying to cope with everyday life stressors, the burden of life crises and personal responsibilities while trying to be productive at work, with no discernable separation.

Another pitfall of remote and flexible work is the isolation and lack of social interaction that can come from not being in an office environment. Without the daily interactions with colleagues, it can be challenging to establish a sense of community and connection with others.

Relationships are important

Outsourcing website Airtasker has reported that 70% of working people rank work social relationships as important as getting work done, and working from home significantly reduces the social aspects of work.

Moreover, collaboration with co-workers on complex tasks is often difficult without being able to sit together strategising, leading to increased stress about work quality.

A four-day solution

Reducing workplace stress and improving workforce morale levels is an evolving process. A pilot programme successfully trialled a four-day working week for over 60 companies and 2,900 employees in the UK recently. Throughout the trial, companies operated either a four-day working week, or overall reduced weekly hours from 40 hours weekly, to 32 hours weekly, but paid the same compensation.

The trial showed almost unanimously positive business results, including 35% higher revenue compared with similar periods in previous years and a 57% drop in the number of staff leaving during the trial period.

More significantly, 71% of employees reported reduced levels of burnout, 43% felt an improvement in mental health and 39% felt less stressed. The UK study followed a smaller trial involving 1,000 employees in several countries, which also saw positive results. Overall, the studies were so successful that an astonishing 92% of the companies taking part in the larger study are continuing with the four-day week.

This is just one approach to reducing employee stress and improving work-life balance.

Banning email after hours

Globally, companies have experimented with other remedies. Many have experimented with night-time email bans, even going so far as to use apps that shut down access while on vacation or out of hours.

Many employers provide access to gyms, meditation and yoga studios and other wellness-related programmes.  Other companies and even geographic regions are going way beyond traditional parental leave, offering mental health days, or even ‘menstrual leave’.

Other companies have offered virtual mental health services or retained full-service employee benefits experts. If the results of these pilot programmes and trial say anything, it’s that revenue, job satisfaction, and morale are almost unanimously improved with just about every offering provided. And when the workforce is more content and less stressed, business is better.

Although modern advancements in work flexibility have had significant positive impacts on the stress and mental health of the workforce, more investment is clearly needed to protect the wellbeing of employees while balancing overall productivity. Remote work or a four-day week is a good first step, but not a panacea.

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