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Trend 5 (of 8) – The way we work is undergoing a dramatic shift

Shorter work weeks, flexible work hours and remote working, are all trends that are gaining a lot of traction in the world of employee performance.

Obviously in times of a pandemic such as these, remote working and employee productivity become paramount from a continuity of business perspective but there is a lot more to this trend than just being able to manage organizational performance at times of crisis. COVID-19 has shown a lot of businesses how they were just not ready to manage work remotely, while there are those that have been designed to be able to manage crisis from the word go, and in some cases such as that of Falak, all systems we put in place were geared towards higher team member engagement and productivity but we have had the added benefit of not having to change much to easily put in our remote working and continuity protocol.

What exactly is compressed work?

In the 1920s, the automotive industry (Ford motors) introduced us to 40 hours work week and it has been a norm since across the globe. In recent years, compressed work schedules have become popular not only among shift workers, but also with many office workers in corporate settings. As the name suggests, a compressed work schedule “compresses” 40 hours of work into fewer days over a weekly or biweekly period.

There are various styles of this in the market:

  • Hours don’t change but the number of days change: For example, with a 4/10 compressed schedule, employees might work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, with Friday off. Or, they could work a 9/80 schedule with nine-hour days for eight days straight, followed by one eight-hour day, which gives them every other Friday (or other weekday) off.

  • People work 4 days a week (reducing number of hours from 40 to 32/30)

  • People work 6 hours a day for 5 days (reducing number of hours from 40 to 32/30)

  • Flexible work policies (work from home, flexi-hours, etc.) are all viewed as part of this initiative

Why is it important?

Various reasons for the rise of the shorter work weeks are:

  • The call for a better work life balance by the newer workforce, as focus moves towards wellbeing (younger people choose flexible work hours over healthcare in Microsoft).

  • Lots of unproductive hours spent by employees in the office: eg: studies found the following break up – 1 hour spent on news websites, 44 minutes social media, 40 mins discussing non work-related topics, 26 mins searching for a new job. (Ohio Univ, US Psychological journal)

  • Studies have proven that 8 hours a day can only be productive if you take 15 mins break every 1 hour. (Ohio Univ, US Psychological journal)

  • Unlike the past the current work environment is increasingly automated, leaving lesser things to do during the day. (NPR)

  • Salaries have not kept pace with increased productivity. Though productivity has gone up from 1987 to 2015 by 5% annually (in all industries), compensation has only grown by 2% annually. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report)

  • A Gallup study in 2019 found that 23% employees are burnt out with a 40-hour work week.

  • Allows for gender diversity as women are able to work as well. (Ohio Univ, US Psychological journal)

What impact does it have on organizational performance?

There are various benefits noticed with compressed work hours and flexible work. Below are some instances where there has been a significant increase in productivity and engagement:

  • Microsoft found 40% increase in productivity (Japan trials).

  • Sweden has noticed a 64% productivity increase in the private sector with compressed work weeks.

  • Nurses that were on a 30-hour work week, took 50% less sick leaves (Sweden trials).

  • Employee engagement was higher by 20% (Sweden trials).

  • Microsoft found 58% reduction in pages printed, electricity consumption was lesser by 23% (Business insider).

  • Perpetual Garden, a management company in New Zealand found in an employee satisfaction survey that the employees felt a 45% increase in work life balance.

  • Swedish companies have noticed a 36% increase in retention (Sweden trials).

What opportunities does it bring out?

The world around us is changing and so are the priorities of the younger generation. So much so that in the U.K., the Labour Party recently made the four-day workweek — at no change in pay — one of its central policies. And if the politicians are already involved then it is just a matter of time it becomes legislation as well. Given the increases in productivity that organizations can experience, some of the opportunities, this trend presents are:

  • Change management consultants and organization consultants will have a lot of work ahead for them and can study this further and create models.

  • The wellness and entertainment industry can evolve to accommodate the free time that employees will now have.

  • Training companies can take the lead in soft skills training for leaders and supervisors.

  • Property companies can evolve designs to have hybrid structures that are more suitable to flexible work.

What challenges can come up?

While this is a growing trend there are people on both sides of the bench when it comes to flexible and or compressed work. The old guard doesn’t believe it can work and does not want to change while the new work force is not willing to accept the old ways of working. The main challenges that organizations face are as follows:

  • Rapidly changing mindsets of employees, that would require organizations to restructure.

  • Old management styles need to change in order to ensure productivity and supervision in the new workplaces.

  • Finally, a vast majority of people who are stuck in between generations have trouble unplugging.

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