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It’s Work. But Not as We Knew it…

We have written previously about the changes employees want to see post-pandemic. They want a better work/life balance; they want to work for companies whose values they share – and they want their employers to recognize that it’s not just the pay packet at the end of the month. Other things are equally important.

These demands from Millennials and Generation Z are not going to change. Workers are not suddenly going to become their parents and grandparents: loyal to one company, working 9 to 5 and accepting that family life has to come second to the demands of the job.

A growing number of companies seem to be recognizing this, and a four-day working week six-month pilot program was recently launched in the UK. Companies taking part will trial a four-day week with no loss of pay for employees, using what’s been dubbed the 100:80:100 model. That’s 100% of the pay for 80% of the previous time, in exchange for a commitment to maintaining 100% of previous productivity.

The trial – organised by the 4 Day Week Global campaign – will run in parallel with similar campaigns in the USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. That is in stark contrast to China, where only two years ago entrepreneur Jack Ma was demanding a return to 9-9-6: employees working from 9am to 9pm six days a week.

On the face of it, both employers and employees should welcome the move to a four-day week, with the organizers of the pilot program claiming numerous studies show that it boosts both productivity and workers’ well-being. They cite Microsoft’s example in Japan, where moving to a four-day week with no loss of pay boosted productivity by 40%.

Clearly employers – not just those taking part in the pilot – will need to respond to the challenge. There is clear evidence that the under-45s are leading the movement towards the four-day week, with one study suggesting that almost a fifth of 35 to 44 year-olds are considering changing jobs in the hope of finding an employer that offers a four-day week.

There is also increasing evidence that if Millennial and Generation Z employees don’t get the flexibility they want from work they are prepared to resort to employment tribunals. The number of tribunals relating to flexible working was up 52% in 2020/21 compared to the previous year. Post-pandemic you would expect this year’s figures to be even higher. A partner at employment law firm GQ¦Littler said, “The rise in cases relating to flexible working suggests this is becoming a battleground in some businesses.”

It’s not hard to see both sides of the coin. Everyone wants a better work/life balance and the idea of working fewer days a week is obviously appealing. But employers want to make sure that productivity and services to clients are maintained. A four-day working week may be fine if you have 5,000 employees: if you only have half a dozen then juggling everyone’s demands for flexible working could put real strains on the business.

As the employment lawyers suggest, the battle may be fought for some time yet…

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