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Lisa BischoffApr 04, 20236 min read

Figuring Out Flexible Work

If you’ve spent any time on LinkedIn recently, you’ve probably scrolled through an article or post about the reintroduction in March 2023 of a Congressional bill to reduce the US workweek to 32 hours or the results from the UK’s 4-day workweek trial. This trial, the largest of its kind, looked at over 2900 workers from a multitude of industries to see how a 4-day work week affected employee engagement as well as business performance. 

In case you haven’t seen the key takeaways, they’re quite profound. To name a few: 

  • 71% of employees felt less burnt out
  • 73% of employees reported increased life satisfaction 
  • 48% of employees were more satisfied with their jobs than before
  • 15% of employees said ‘no amount of money’ would convince them to go back to working five days a week

It wasn’t just employees who benefited, though. Businesses felt the positive impacts of a longer weekend as well: 

  • Revenue increased by an average of 1.4% over the study period
  • The likelihood of employees quitting dropped 57% from the same period a year earlier
  • The number of employees calling out sick dropped 65% from the same period a year earlier
  • 92% of the businesses that participated said they planned to continue to offer the shortened work week for now, and 30% of the businesses who participated said they planned to continue to offer the 4-day workweek permanently

What can we learn from this trial and from recent US legislation efforts? In what ways may this inspire your own organization to reconsider its approach to work, productivity, and employee satisfaction and retention? 

For one, I think it’s apparent that time does not necessarily equal productivity. In fact, the more time someone is given, the less productive they may be at any one moment. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. This means if given 40 hours a week, many people will find ways to take the full 40 hours to complete necessary tasks. If given only 32, they’ll find a way to get everything completed in 32 hours’ time. Removing a workday a week doesn’t automatically equate to losing 8 hours of output; rather, it can create a more efficient way of working, completing the same amount of output in less time. 

Critics of the 4-day workweek often state it just wouldn’t work in their industry/market/client base/etc. And while that may be valid in general - a hospital, for example, has to be open and operating 24/7 - it doesn’t mean shifts can’t change and individual employee schedules cannot be adjusted to get them down to 4-day workweeks themselves. Of course, certain industries are facing very real staffing shortages, and because decreasing the workweek requires more team members, this could be a challenge.

If your company isn’t ready to take the plunge and try to implement the four-day workweek just yet, what are some other ways you still may be able to lean into the benefits of a similar offering? 

Flexible Work

At its core, flexible work is about empowering and trusting employees to produce high-quality work on their own terms - when, where, and how they want. It's a strategy that promotes productivity and engagement while also providing employees with the autonomy they crave.

In any capacity your organization is able, allowing individuals to flex out their workday will result in a more balanced team, with better well-being. Parents can opt to work early or late in the day when their children are in bed, freeing up some daytime hours for chaperoning school events or a trip to the park. Employees can take time for self-care as needed, maybe attending a yoga class, going to the gym, or prioritizing therapy during daytime hours. 

But flexible work doesn't just benefit employees - it has been statistically proven to be a smart business move. Flexible workers are more productive than their in-office or schedule-rigid counterparts. It’s one of the top three perks candidates globally are looking for in a new company, and 80% of candidates say they’d be more loyal to a company that offered flexible work. Gallup reports flexible work directly correlates with increased engagement, which has been proven to lower absenteeism by 41% and increase profitability by 21%. From a recruiting standpoint, flexible employers average seven times more applicants than those who don’t offer flexibility, and by allowing employees to work when, where, and how they want, you’re much more likely to attract (and keep) top talent. 

Summer (or Slow Season) Hours

Another option employers should consider is what many have come to call ‘summer hours’, but which could easily be adapted to your industry’s version of a slower season. The premise is basically that employees are able to opt out of working certain times or days during slower/summer hours - typically, a full or half day on Friday. This perk can look different depending on your organization - some require employees to put in extra time Monday through Thursday, essentially just shifting their work hours around; others only require 32-hour workweeks during the summer but do not adjust employees' pay, providing them what can equate to three weeks or so of additional Paid Time Off; others offer alternating Fridays off, or half days on Fridays. 

Proponents of Summer Hours note that once again, it’s given them a competitive advantage with both recruiting talent and retaining talent. Employees feel happier, more productive, healthier, and more loyal to their organizations with these perks. 

No-Meeting Days

Even if your company's leadership is resistant to implementing flexible work policies, introducing some dedicated time each week for uninterrupted and distraction-free work can still have a positive impact on productivity and employee morale. It's hard to argue against the objective benefits of flexible work, and even small steps toward empowering employees can make a big difference in the long run.

One startling stat to know: the average knowledge worker spends 85% of their time in meetings. Is that really providing the most opportunity to be strategic, intentional, and productive with their time? Probably not, considering it takes on average 23 minutes for a person to get back into a state of productive flow after every distraction/meeting. 

Companies like Facebook and Atlassian have implemented at least one no-meeting day per week, and the results are, once again, telling: autonomy, engagement, communication, and productivity increased. Stress decreased by 26%, and micromanagement declined as well. Team members are able to use this time to dive deep into projects, strategize on big business initiatives, work on professional development, or catch up on administrative tasks like emails and calendars. 

If you’re curious about providing this no-interruption time, it’s okay to start small - maybe Wednesdays until noon are off limits to any internal meetings - town halls, 1;1s, team check-ins, etc. To work in the long run, this strategy requires buy-in from the top down - executives and senior leaders have to model this behavior and commit to abiding by the guardrails created.

What we’ve learned about flexible work

The pandemic irrevocably shifted the way we work. For many people, having more control over how, where, and when they work is more important than ever. Employers should consider what works for their industry, market, and individual team culture, understanding flexibility in the workplace is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Flexible work is part of a larger, more intentional People Operations strategy and can help foster and support both recruitment and retention efforts. 

To get help developing your own People Operations strategy, or consulting on your current plan, schedule a meeting with us today!


Lisa Bischoff

Lisa is the Program Manager for HubSearch's Employee Retention and People Operations offering. Her background is in designing and implementing employee experiences and strategies that create highly engaged and happy team members.