In Case You Didn’t Get the Memo, the Nature of Work Has Just Changed

The Psychological Effect

I interact with many people who are in a four-day work environment.

They seem more focused and deliberate with their work. They’re less likely to waste time or put things off, knowing they’re always under a bit of a time crunch. They don’t want to lose the privilege of this work arrangement, so they seem more committed to getting things done in that compressed timeframe. Maybe that tendency will ease over time.

For now, at least, four-day workweeks are a privilege, not a “right,” and those who enjoy this workplace benefit will be on their best productive behavior to keep it.

A Recruitment Tool

There’s no question that employees feel more emboldened about their status vis-à-vis their employer than in many years. The Great Resignation may have fizzled just a bit, but the labor market still places a premium on good workers. Labor unions seem to be on the ascent.

Now that employees have experienced the flexibility of a pandemic, work-from-home environment, they’ve set their sights higher – on expanded work-life benefits like shorter workweeks. “Zoom-free Fridays” are good, but they want more.

And Twitter aside, for the foreseeable future, employers will be eager to offer the perks and niceties needed to keep and retain their people. The perceived value of in-house baristas and catered lunches will pale compared to the recruiting power of a four-day week for the new generation of workers.

What’s the Big Deal?

Many employers are wising up and realizing that enforcing productivity through mandatory hours is a hopeless proposition. Knowledge workers will produce as much as they feel like producing. Period.

In fact, ideal productivity in the knowledge workplace can’t be enforced, and it can only be motivated – primarily from within. Today’s office workers will produce if they feel valued and wanted. The more creative the work, the less meaningful mandatory hours and days become.

The Four-Day Workweek will Change Workplaces

Much of what we hear about shortened workweeks is from the employee’s perspective. But this trend will create challenges for many companies. Customers and clients won’t always match their schedules to the company’s four-day workweek.

As the movement progresses, we’ll have similar kinds of challenges and dichotomies as we had during the pandemic. COVID pushed many jobs to remote status but not all. Condensed workweeks will work for many industries, companies, and departments, but not all.

For example, help desks and customer service departments must operate at least five days a week, even if employees are remote. Members of customer service teams will need to stagger schedules so that one or two are available on each of five or six days. While the employees might have four-day workweeks, supervisors and managers might not.

Conversely, though, while factory workers missed out on the opportunity to work remotely during the pandemic, there’s no reason these companies can’t adopt condensed workweeks for many of their employees. After all, almost a century ago, Ford Motor Company led the way in transitioning workweeks from six days to five.

Our current five-day workweek will soon seem as backward as working Monday through Saturday. I have no doubt that 100 years from now, the average employee will have nearly as many days off as on. Thanks to IT advances, the productivity levels of workers in 2123 will be off the charts. Demographic trends will slowly shrink the skilled workforce between now and then, meaning workers will have even more clout.

Take those factors together, and “work-life” will assuredly flip to “life-work.”

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