Judging by the profusion of articles on managing workers, particularly Gen Z, in this post pandemic period, it is clear that a universal solution has not been found. The recent article on warming to a 4 day week in Raconteur about a four day week pilot trial run over six months found that medium and larger businesses of over 50 employees were most in favour (64% to 76%) but smaller businesses with capacity limitations were less supportive. The trial, run by Thinktank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week Campaign in conjunction with researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Boston College, observed that compared to the previous five day week, staff retention and recruitment were improved and resignations and sick days were down. It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of employees preferred to work four days rather than five days a week for the same money. Some employees in the trial (15%) said ‘no amount of money would persuade them to abandon the four-day week’ and 78% said they would ‘require a higher salary to return to a five-day schedule’.
Hybrid working v office working
Given that hybrid working is a hot topic right now, it would be interesting to see the results of a comparison between a hybrid model of working with most days spent working at home and a four day week with employees in the office for most of their working days. The Raconteur article suggests that a four day week, with employees in the office, could be a solution to the problems of managing a more flexible model of working. As described in this article from Psychology Today, managing employees in a hybrid working model is complex and requires new skills from managers to address their concerns about productivity and more importantly to provide support to employees so that they remain engaged and committed. The article explains that some managers fall into the cognitive bias known as functional fixedness and as a result ‘the mind still tries to apply old functions to new contexts, and managers shoehorn office-centric methods of management into hybrid work’. Instead the article proposes a more structured management approach with ‘deliberate and intentional coordination, using tools like project management collaboration software, setting clear and reasonable expectations for communication, and regular one-on-one meetings with team members’. Likewise a Microsoft WorkLab report admits that it is not a trivial task to build social capital in a hybrid environment – ‘To make hybrid work work, leaders need to empower managers to be the culture keepers, rethink the role of the office, rebuild social capital for a digital-first workforce, and create new practices for sustainable flexible work. Technology plays a key role, but this moment calls for a new mindset.’
Balancing Hybrid Work and Employee Preferences
Companies moved to adopt a hybrid model of working because the employees they needed to attract wanted the flexibility. If some companies are finding the hybrid model too hard to manage, they may be tempted to give up and offer a four day week as a sweetener. However given that younger employees, especially Gen Z and millennials, like the flexibility of hybrid working and place a high value on work-life balance, they may find a four day week in the office to be an unappealing compromise. A study, carried out by the London School of Economics and software company, Freshworks, found that hybrid or flexible working has overtaken salary as the most important factor for millennials and Gen Z employees. Further, Janine Chamberlin, UK country manager and vice-president of LinkedIn warns that rescinding on the right to flexible work could “have consequences for employee motivation and the progress that’s been made on diversity and equity”.
How Tensense helps
In the current environment of high inflation and cautious hiring, companies may be inclined to take a breath and postpone any changes to working arrangements. However the problem will raise its head again when inflation is brought under control and the economy recovers. This hiatus is a good opportunity for companies to weigh up the options for flexible working and involve their employees in the decision. As emphasised in the WorkLab report, leaders need ‘to empower managers to be the culture keepers’ and to democratise the process of decision making on major changes. An initial approach to finding out how the company culture and operation is perceived is to ask the workforce for their opinions in a non invasive way. Using Organisational Sensemaking™, Tensense provides an anonymous, quick and ongoing way of assessing the mood of the people about how the organisation is doing. You can find out more in this short video here.
Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash