There’s been a lot of talk about the 4-day week and more organisations are now trialling it out, many with positive results. Some organisations are reporting increased happiness, less stress, higher retention rates and greater productivity. It all sounds positive and the results shouldn’t be knocked, however, it’s important to view the 4-day week in perspective.


The truth is that it will never be the ‘holy grail’ for achieving staff happiness as some businesses and unions are proclaiming. It can contribute to a better work-life balance, however if the company culture is lacking in other areas, organisations may be disappointed with the results the 4-day week brings. 


The key to greater workplace happiness will never simply boil down to working less hours, but is about improving some fundamental aspects of a workplace culture. After Global research with 15,000 employees worldwide, O.C. Tanner has found that to achieve greater staff happiness, engagement and motivation, the following key areas must be addressed:


Company purpose – Staff need to feel as though they are working for a company that has a clear, relatable purpose which can inspire people to achieve great work. Connecting with employees on an emotional level is the very foundation of a positive company culture. 


Success and pride – A happy workforce will feel as though they are part of a ‘winning team’ on a daily basis. Even if the company isn’t a leader in its field, everyone needs to feel part of a thriving business and so it’s important that achievements are shouted about and pride in the business is championed.


Growth and development opportunities – Aside from promotions and pay rises, staff must feel challenged and provided with a range of opportunities in which their voices are heard and they are given the chance to shine. Working on special projects, secondments and working with individuals outside of employees’ immediate teams can all contribute to creating an engaging and exciting workplace for all.


Appreciation and recognition – Do staff feel respected and valued for the work they put in? This is vital for promoting a culture of happiness and yet O.C. Tanner has found that only 61 per cent of employees feel appreciated in the workplace. On top of this, when recognition is given, it’s done incorrectly one third of the time leaving staff feeling unappreciated and demotivated. Effective appreciation and recognition must be frequent, timely, thoughtful and meaningful. In fact, when managers regularly and effectively show recognition for good work, employees are five times more likely to stay at the company.


Inclusivity – Staff must feel that they can ‘be themselves’ at work rather than put on ‘a show’. By nurturing a culture of inclusivity and tolerance, employees are 141% more likely to feel a sense of belonging.


Emotional and social wellbeing – If the 4-day weeks leads to staff working overtime every evening in order to keep pace with their workload, then stress is likely to be increased rather than reduced. The 4-day week must therefore form part of an holistic wellbeing strategy which recognises the importance of a person’s physical, emotional, social and financial wellbeing. Such an approach must allow staff greater flexibility over how they integrate their working lives and personal lives, encourage discussions around mental and financial health and promote workplace friendships to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. 


Leadership – The company’s leadership style is vital for achieving an upbeat working culture. If leaders are quick to give orders, apportion blame and take credit, staff will never feel supported and motivated. It’s therefore key for leaders to lead with humility and compassion, providing mentorship while championing a collaborative approach. Research reveals that when leaders are mentors and development advocates, employees have a 102% increase in motivation levels.


So before leaders jump on the ‘4-day week’ bandwagon, it’s important for them to assess why they’re going down this route in the first place. If the answer is to increase staff happiness and motivation, it’s advisable to first assess the company’s workplace culture as a whole as the 4-day week will never be a ‘quick fix’ solution. It’s only when leaders give all the key elements of an organisational culture their attention can true and long-term staff happiness result.

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