Is a 4-Day Working Week the Answer to Improving Mental Health?

As we emerge from the toughest year that we’ve collectively experienced, it’s no secret that life as we know it has changed significantly. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the last year, it’s that we don’t have to be running at a hundred miles an hour, all of the time. Prolonged time at home has meant more time to connect with ourselves and hone into that all-important work-life balance. Now, as we begin to return to the workplace, employers must ensure a working plan is in place to support their workforce personally, but to also encourage business development after the uncertainty of last year.

The Health Foundation has reported that 63% of adults are not only more worried and anxious about the return to work over the coming weeks, but what’s to come in the future. This is a direct result of the pandemic; our society is clearly in need of a remedy to help combat the mental health crisis we’re facing, and employers must take a proactive approach to combat this statistic.

Introducing the four-day week to the workplace is an excellent way of making this a reality. With good mental health comes productivity, creativity and an all-round improvement at work – making it in an employer’s best interest to be sure their staff arrive at work in a comfortable headspace. It also allows the employee to achieve a comfortable synergy between professional and personal life.

One business that has taken this stride is VerriBerri, a multi-award-winning marketing agency that has seen huge improvements to productivity and staff wellbeing since implementing the 4-day working week. Here, CEO Sarah Kauter, who recently won a businessperson of the year award, shares her thoughts on why a shorter working week is the way forward to improve mental health and productivity, plus advice for business owners looking to achieve this also.

Work-Life Balance 

After the uncertain year we’ve had, mental health and wellbeing are more important now than ever before. As we slowly begin the transition back to the office, many companies will be wanting to claw back what they’ve lost as a direct result of the pandemic and it is your team that will be helping you to achieve these new heights. The prospect of delivering these results can be quite daunting to an employee at the best of times, so showing initiative and ensuring that the correct processes are in place to combat feelings of overwhelming, shows a proactive and empathetic approach upon the return to work.

Sarah says: “Implementing a 4-day week is a steadfast way of showing your employees that you are supporting them as an employer. Giving them the option to reduce the time spent at work creates an open and balanced working environment.” One extra day allows each staff member to step away from work, enjoy some self-care or run some errands that would usually take up a significant amount of the weekend. Sarah adds: “We all know how busy things get at the weekend; having a weekday off to get those life admin tasks done means you can truly switch off and relax and the weekend.”

As well as the self-care benefits, the 4-day working week is also advantageous to working parents. As a mother of three herself, Sarah has found the shorter working week has helped her at home. “On my weekday off, I’m able to get tasks like cleaning and shopping out of the way, whilst the girls are at school. By the end of the week, most of those mundane jobs are finished and I’m able to completely enjoy my time with them at the weekend.” Whether it’s a chance to indulge in a passion, spend time with family or friends or even watching a new series, an extra day can revive and rejuvenate, reflecting positively in quality of work, but most importantly, mental health.

With good mental health comes productivity, creativity and an all-round improvement at work – making it in an employer’s best interest to be sure their staff arrive at work in a comfortable headspace.

Increased Productivity and Job Satisfaction

A shorter working week results in increased productivity in the office. With a tranquil mind, there is better clarity of what needs to be accomplished during the working day, and with a defined work-life balance, morale is boosted across the board.

A great example of this was the well-publicised case study on Microsoft, Japan. By implementing a 4-day week, employee productivity improved by 40% in just a few months. Furthermore, they put a 30-minute limit on all meetings, so that employees had optimum time to finish their work. They also found that that printing decreased by 58% and electricity consumption decreased by 23%. It was this movement that pushed many business owners to reduce their working week by a day.

In the current times, providing the flexibility of a 4-day working week will only pay off long-term. Not only does it have the potential to boost employee satisfaction, commitment, and overall engagement but employees are less likely to need personal time off, or sick leave with more time to rest and recover out of office each week. Importantly, the majority of employees taking leave of absences are women needing time off for childcare. A shorter working week contributes to eliminating the gendered gap in available working hours by providing a more equitable approach to accommodating the modern familial needs of all employees.

Benefitting Your Business

Although there is much to be gained from the 4-day working week, every business is different. Before jumping straight in, it’s worth trialling the concept. VerriBerri have been working under the regime of a shorter week for over 2 years now and have found multiple benefits in this streamlined way of working.

Sarah says: “The wellbeing of our team is of utmost importance to me; they work incredibly hard and it’s fundamental that they feel appreciated for the work they do. Without your team, results are simply not guaranteed. When we were looking for a sustainable way to encourage an increased work-life balance, the 4-day working week seemed like the perfect fit for us. We decided to trial it for 6 weeks to make sure it was reliable long term, and it most definitely was.”

At VerriBerri, the team work 8 am to 6 pm, 4 days a week. Employees have an allocated weekday off, and this equates to 4 days at work and 3 days out of office, but these hours may not work for every kind of business; after all, flexibility looks different for every company. Sarah explains: “For us, it has been a huge part of our success in the last year. An additional day off to work towards brings newfound motivation, lowers stress levels, and as a result, a higher quality of work is produced. It has proved a faultless way to provide the team with a comfortable work-life blend, whilst offering our clients above and beyond service.”

Sarah is quick to recommend the 4-day working week to other business considering the change and is yet to see any downsides of making this transition. Each business is unique, so be sure to consider the benefits for your requirements specifically. If employee mental health, wellbeing and a comfortable work-life balance find themselves at the top of your list, the advantages of this transition will be quick to make themselves known.

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