How would a four-day work week affect learning?

Until now, the five-day working week has been a given. From Monday to Friday, the vast majority of office-based workers take to their desks to complete their tasks, with only the occasional bank holiday to punctuate the traditional working week.

However, with 9-5 hours being all but dead (and yes, that’s the fault of millennials too), could the typical working week be next?

Earlier this year, a fellow New Zealand company experimented with allowing employees to adopt a four-day working week, but still be paid their usual salary. Many business owners might baulk at this - why would you pay the same salary for less time spent at work? But the results were pretty eye-opening.

Workers’ sense of work-life balance increased from 54% to 78% and stress decreased, making for a happier workforce. Oh, and productivity? That 20% reduction in working days didn’t have a negative impact on job performance - it actually slightly improved over the course of the experiment.

Realistically, this isn’t going to become the new norm for some time. It will take more companies to conduct experiments of their own, and more evidence from the early pioneers of the four-day work week could see this trickle through to more organisations in the coming years.

But early evidence is promising - what if people really can work less but be more productive? And what impact would this change have on learning?

Totara Learn: How would a 4 day week affect learning?

Attracting the best talent

Again, millennials are the driving force behind this change. Millennials generally value a healthy work-life balance over spending their lives chained to their desks, and with 77% of millennials saying that flexible working would make the workplace more productive for people of their age, this could be a massive pull for new talent. With improving work-life balance being a top priority (88% of people say that more flexible hours are attractive to them as employees), addressing these desires could empower companies to attract the strongest talent, who will no doubt be in demand from competitors offering less flexibility. Stronger new recruits will change the type of training you have to offer, and is likely to improve speed to competence for more efficient training.

More time for self-paced learning

Did you know that 50% of millennials desire training and development from their employer? And while that might mean formal learning programmes offered by your organisation, it might also mean engaging with external learning opportunities resulting from their employment. For instance, this could mean managers agreeing to one day a week where an employee takes a class at a local university or college, or allowing the employee time to meet with a mentor or coach to help them develop specialist skills.

Many people simply feel too time-poor to learn at work, so giving employees extra time to themselves could make a huge difference in the way they engage with self-development opportunities - and yes, that could be as simple as having the time to log into your LMS in their time off.

More focused face-to-face time

The New Zealand company mentioned earlier found that during the experiment, employees spent less time in meetings and started using ‘signals’ to indicate when they didn’t want to be disturbed. With less time to waste on unnecessary in-person interactions, employees were more focused, allowing them to get through their usual tasks faster.

Reducing the work week by 20% means there is less time to waste in unproductive meetings, so it’s important to ensure that all meetings have a clear purpose, run to schedule and only involve the necessary people. When conducted well, meetings can be a powerful source of social learning and knowledge sharing, but when they’re not, they can be a real time drain - no matter how many days a week your employees are in the office.

Opt for flexibility

Flexibility is the key trend in the workplace today, with more workers than ever before working remotely, from home, from co-working spaces, at times of their choosing and, maybe soon, on days of their choosing. Many roles, especially office-based roles, don’t actually require employees to be in an office from 9 to 5 from Monday to Friday - this is just how things have traditionally been done.

This works both ways - switching to a four-day work week may mean that employees occasionally take an early-morning call or finish up a project in their evening, but this flexibility creates a much happier, less stressed and even more productive workforce.

A flexible learning programme should be supported by flexible software that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, on any device, to ensure that learning can continue no matter where or when your employees want to learn. 45% of millennials would choose flexibility over pay, proving that this really is a priority for a massive proportion of the labour market today.

What's next?

The reality of the situation is that whether it’s the four-day work week or something else, this desire for increased flexibility in the workplace is going to be a massive disruptive force on organisations. Those who are prepared to move with the times and adapt to change will thrive, while those who are committed to maintaining the outdated status quo will struggle to compete. The best thing businesses can do today is to acknowledge that the working world is changing and take the necessary steps now to ensure that they’re ready, instead of burying their heads in the sand and forcing the same-old, same-old approach on a workforce that is already moving on.