The four-days-work-for-five days’ pay debate is getting a little heated as bosses from another era find it hard to comprehend that such a policy makes any sense.
This approach is best encapsulated by Peter Strong, the former chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, who let fly with Opinion: Peter Strong on why a four-day work week will increase prices and taxes in Smart Company early last month.
Strong’s head was clearly exploding as he outlined the various problems he saw with the logic of a shorter working week – here’s a little taste of it.
A police officer would work four days instead of five. Will criminals also be expected to only work four days but achieve the same number of crimes they normally achieve in five days? This is of course just being absurd but that is because the idea is absurd. Either way we would need to employ more police officers to cover the extra days and that would increase the wages bill of the government and taxes would have to rise.
The same applies to first responders. Fires and accidents don’t try to fit in with the public service needs. We would have to employ more first responders or cut services by 20%.
Then there are the public servants who write policy and manage programs and contracts. There are also those who service politicians and provide administrative support for others. If they can achieve in four days what they currently achieve in five days doesn’t that mean they have been bludging somewhat? Taking it easy? Malingering?
What about the transport sector? Would truck drivers be expected to achieve in four days what they did in five? How? Drive for longer? Drive faster? Both? Get bigger trucks that carry more? None of those solutions are safe and acceptable
Noticeably absent from Strong’s article was any acknowledgment or discussion of why any organisation would consider implementing a four-day working week – improving recruitment and increasing retention, being the most obvious ones.
The real-life example of how this recruitment advantage is playing out was reported in The Guardian earlier this month when the South Cambridgeshire district council announced it was going to defy a minister of the Crown and continue its four-day week trial.
Earlier in the month, Lee Rowley, the minister for local government, wrote to the council saying: “This experiment should end.” The letter was an escalation after the government said in June it was opposed to four-day weeks in town halls (local governments).
But Bridget Smith, the council’s leader, said the four-day week would continue until the end of its trial period after it boosted the number and quality of job applicants, saving more than £550,000 a year in agency worker costs and allowing it to fill nine posts that no one previously wanted.
“We have consistently said that this is an evidence-based trial to see whether a four-day week can improve our critical recruitment issues,” she said. “Not being able to fill vacant posts – especially in our planning team – is disruptive to services for our residents. We need the trial to run for its full planned length, until the end of March, to gather data and assess whether a difference has been made.”
Mr. Rowley’s last-Century response is typical of a politician (almost all of them) who has never had to deal with the nitty-gritty of constantly recruiting unglamorous or lowly-paid jobs.
Closer to home, Beaumont People CEO, Nina Mapson Bone reported in her recent Smart Company article that the four-day-week-for-five-days-pay “….has been a resounding success for Beaumont People. Measuring output instead of hours has been good for our team, but also good for our leaders.”
Mapson Bone continued, “The team is now steadfast in its desire to maintain its performance even as the market conditions are changing. It’s improved our business performance – we experienced the reported benefits of reduced burnout and sick days. It’s also been a powerful tool for our employee value proposition, in a time of extreme talent shortage.
While it was challenging to figure out how we would implement a four-day work week, the concept of productivity guidelines has opened more doors to meaningful work for all involved.”
The Peter Strongs of this world can protest all they like but the reality is that no organisation will choose to implement a shorter working week, for no reduction in pay, unless it helps permanently improve performance.
One of the most reliable ways to improve performance (as I wrote about two weeks ago) is through team stability.
The stark reality of a completely different approach to attracting and retaining workers should be clear when it’s reported that there are 25,000 vacancies in the early education and care sector in Australia. Any parent attempting to book their child into care will appreciate the stress these unfilled vacancies create for them and their whole family
Just last year, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) updated figures on the scale of aged care worker shortages — figures it had released less than a year before. The annual shortage of aged care workers doubled in less than a year, from 17,000 to 35,000.
On the other side of the world, reports indicate a continuing crisis in teaching that’s only worsening as only half of the required number of trainee secondary school teachers in England have been recruited as the 2023/24 academic year gets underway.
These recruitment problems are only going to get worse if the same old mentality continues to prevail.
The reduction in the costs associated with recruitment, high staff turnover and the subsequent improvement in productivity will, I suspect, be the aces in the hand of those advocating for shorter working week with no reduction in pay.