New Delhi: India Inc has joined the global chatter on the four-day workweek. A recent announcement about the much-talked-about new labour code suggests that organisations may be allowed to offer the option to employees. However, the ministry keeps the 48-hour cap on the workweek "sacrosanct".
Much before the pandemic, remote work and flexible work policies became a part of our lives, companies around the world had begun litmus testing a three-day weekend for employees.
Zahara Kanchwalla, co-founder & COO, Rite Knowledge Lab, lists down a few things to consider if you're giving the four-day workweek a thought for your workforce:
More hours in exchange for extra off
One of the primary arguments in favour of the four-day workweek is that the extra time off leads to better productivity at work. However, look closely and you find that it's only when a four-day workweek is accompanied by reduced weekly work hours that the concept bears fruit.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based company, the first to grab headlines for testing the four-day workweek in 2018, asked its employees to work 30 hours a week and paid them for 37.5 hours. Similarly, Spain experimented with the four-day workweek in response to the pandemic, asking workers to clock in 32 hours a week. Finland's Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has floated the ambitious idea of 6-hour 4-day work weeks.
In effect, the employee continues to work between 8 to 10 hours on working days and enjoys an extra day off from work. However, in India, the weekly work hours remain 48. Adding the option for an extra day off by stretching out the other four days of work is counter-productive at best and threatens employee well-being at worst. One must consider that it's adding almost 50 per cent to the average 8-hour workday. It's a drastic shift for employees to switch into.
Longer hours means less focus
The brain is known to concentrate for 2-hour stretches with 15 to 30-minute intervals in between. Employee focus is usually at its peak at the beginning of the shift with concentration levels gradually dipping as the hours pass. By the 8th or 9th hour of the workday, workers are fatigued and unlikely to be at their productive-best for the additional hours they now have to clock in. It also raises the likelihood of mistakes, errors and accidents.
Just like one can't make up for sleep lost in the week by sleeping for 48 full hours, the additional day off may hardly matter when one works a 12-hour shift for four consecutive days. Add to that an average of three hours of commute to and from work, makes it a total of 15 hours a day that the employee is out of their home for work.
Creativity can't be clocked
In a digital agency where a majority of the roles are of a creative nature, twelve-hour workdays are impractical. Sure, pulling a caffeine-fuelled all-nighter a day before an important pitch may get those creative juices flowing but that's just the pressure of the deadline in action on a creative brain.
Writing, designing, creative visualising and ideating aren't functions that can be dictated to work for 12-hour stretches. Besides, one can only focus on the same project for so long before mental fatigue and the infamous creative block sets in.
To be able to look at the same problem afresh, taking breaks at regular intervals throughout the day is a crucial part of the thinking and ideating process. It cannot be crammed into four days and switched off for the other three.
Beyond the creative functions of a digital agency, the nature of the business itself is interdependent on many external factors and stakeholders. As a digital agency, by default one has to be connected to what's happening in real-time and be of service to clients. Twelve hour-long shifts can be demanding on those in customer-facing roles too, with the possibility for poor judgements and reactions graver in the final hours of the shift.
In addition, like the rest of the services industry, in these hyper-connected times, one is also expected to be available to clients at all times. A company may put a rotational system in place but that means a further restructuring of the workforce. Work from home inspired many organisations to finally embrace flexible work policies. If your company already allows its workforce to tailor their work schedules around their personal lives, a four-day workweek may not add further value.
A long break is priceless
Having said that, a long break away from work is indeed priceless. Employees have long grumbled about the two-day weekend passing by in a blink. On the flip side, a four-day workweek could prove as motivation for the long weekend. Knowing that the workweek is now shorter may encourage employees to complete tasks faster. The promise of three full days to oneself may inspire employees to focus fully while at work.
Besides, a three-day weekend allows one to plan longer holidays out of the city. It may also open up opportunities for employees to engage in long-forgotten hobbies, sign for an upskilling program or take up gigs on the side!
Long weekend or mid-week break
While some companies may make Thursday the new Friday by giving employees a three-day weekend. Some may place the extra day right in the middle of the workweek, on a Wednesday, for employees to return afresh to face the latter half of the week. Companies that want to stay available to their clients and customers through the week will put their employees on a rotation system.
As long as the length of the workday remains the same, the four-day workweek seems to bear sweet fruits. So, you may think announcing a three-day weekend may position you as an attractive employer but giving an extra day off by adding lost hours to rest of the workdays may just end up being like repackaging the same thing in a new gift wrapper. Make sure you take into account all aspects of the decision. Ultimately, if your workers are tired, it's your product and business that will suffer.