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The 4-day workweek may not be the answer to workplace productivity and flexibility, Davos panelists say

Adam Grant at the American Express Business Class LIVE eventAdam Grant, a professor and organizational psychologist, led a panel on the four-day workweek at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Craig Barritt / Stringer / Getty Images

  • The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, included a panel on the four-day workweek.
  • Panelists said while there were benefits to a shortened week, it may not be all firms’ solution.
  • Here’s how they suggested increasing flexibility to benefit employees and companies.

The four-day workweek, and the flexibility it could provide, is a hot topic at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year. 

This comes shortly after the results of a six-month trial on the subject were released. It found participating companies had increased revenue and improved employee health and well-being. The experiment, conducted by 4 Day Week Global, asked 33 companies with employees in six countries to decrease their workweeks to four days, or 32 hours, in 2022 to determine whether employees’ productivity would remain the same while they worked 80% of the typical workweek. 

Adam Grant, a Wharton School professor and organizational psychologist; Christy Hoffman, the general secretary of the UNI Global Union; Karien van Gennip, the Netherlands’ minister of social affairs and employment; and Sander van ‘t Noordende, the CEO of the human-resources firm Randstad, discussed the growing pressures on businesses to try the four-day workweek, innovative changes on productivity and flexibility, and the best course of action for companies considering the move to a more-flexible schedule.

“We have had a static, for many countries, five-day week for about a century,” Grant said Thursday at his panel discussion called “The Four-Day Week.” “It’s time to start testing other models.”

Productivity should be at the core

Each of the panelists understood the global workforce’s desire for flexibility. While a four-day workweek seems like an obvious answer, there are some key factors to consider before making the change, they agreed. 

For instance, the importance of productivity should not be overlooked, van Gennip said.

“If you look at the amount of work that’s ahead of us — that’s climate transition, healthcare — we cannot afford for everybody to go to a lower number of hours with the same productivity,” she added.

But there are productivity benefits to giving employees more time to invest in themselves, which could come through the four-day workweek or other rescheduling methods.

“If you really give people enough time to invest in themselves, the hours that they put into projects and work will become more productive,” she said. 

‘This is very much a discussion for the upper class’

While work-life balance is important, a universally shortened week doesn’t make sense for many sectors of business, the panelists said. Instead, workplace flexibility needs to be aligned with the workers it will affect.

For example, less time on the job may not benefit service or hourly workers, as some are looking for more opportunities to earn money, Hoffman said. The four-day week “is very much a discussion for the upper class,” van Gennip said. 

Instead of a shortened week, what they need is consistent scheduling so they can adequately prepare for responsibilities like childcare and doctor appointments, Hoffman said. That’s the form of flexibility and empowerment they’re looking for, she added.

“If you consider the discussions we also have on minimum wage and living wage, then you have to be quite serious about what that means for the pay per hour,” van Gennip added. 

Flexibility through reorganization

Whether it be a four-day workweek or another method of schedule restructuring, a focus on both flexibility and productivity also benefits companies, van ‘t Noordende said.

“This is a business imperative,” he said of considering employee flexibility, because the talent pool is scarce. Businesses need to start treating their talent with the same respect as their customers because people are willing to leave if they aren’t satisfied, van ‘t Noordende added. 

The panelists suggested taking concrete steps, including shortening meeting times — like changing 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes — or reorganizing the type of work done by employees and outsourcing administrative tasks to lessen workloads.

“As governments and commercial organizations, we really need to think about what kind of work we can offer to people that’s indeed much-more flexible,” van Gennip said. 

Read the original article on Business Insider