A tech giant might be moving towards giving its employees that elusive three-day weekend, with reports Yahoo Japan is looking to introduce a four-day work week.
But experts say it’s more likely businesses will have the best chance of retaining productive staff if they make simple, individualised changes to their workplaces.
The Japan Times reports sources close to Yahoo Japan parent company SoftBank Group Corporation have said the company is looking at a multi-stage process to move its 5800-strong employee base to a four-day a week work arrangement.
Yahoo’s not the first company to eye off shorter work hours, or even the first nation to think about slicing up the work week. Sweden has seen many attempts at shortening the work day to six hours, including a number of start-ups that have standard six hour days for all employees, while the Netherlands has been praised for work-life balance with an average work week of 28 hours, according to OECD data.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Melbourne Leah Ruppanner says businesses should always be focused on what gets done, rather than the time frame in which people are at work.
“We often still think people need to be there eight hours a day – but people spend significant chunks of their day inefficiently,” Ruppanner told SmartCompany.
For a four-day week, the question would be whether it’s a productive move for staff members.
“The question would be – are people off [work] the other three days,” Ruppanner says.
“Or will people be doing five days of work, and one is done at home, answering emails?”
A blanket four-day work week might not take into account the needs of each individual employee – something that small business owners might be more able to achieve because they are naturally more nimble operations.
“I think small business owners would benefit most from matching their employees to the flexible arrangements,” Ruppanner says.
“It wouldn’t make sense to offer childcare subsidies to people who work but don’t have children, for example.
“Small businesses perhaps have the luxury of offering things that would be targeted to increase the efficiency of their workers.”
Managing director of HR think tank Reventure Lindsay McMillan says in Australia, we have reached the definition of a flexible work culture and the task is now to get people to have a break from screen.
While a four-day work week may not necessarily be on the cards for Australian businesses, there are things that businesses can do to keep good staff – and there are a number of people dissatisfied with their current arrangements.
“From a study that we did with 1000 Australians, more than 40% of workers are looking for a new job in the current year,” McMillan told SmartCompany.
“If employees don’t have an alignment with [the job] and their purpose and meaning, they just leave.”
McMillan says shorter hours or a different work schedule might not address the fact that Australians are working harder than they did 10 years ago, with many businesses not understanding the nature of the stress employees are under.
“I think the Scandinavian countries have done some interesting work – some companies actually turn off their emails on Friday night, and that respects the fact that we’re more than just there to do a job,” he says.
The reliance on screens is also constant both in and out of the workplace, and McMillan says businesses could benefit from encouraging their employees to take a break.
“The new break is to get up and check your Facebook and your Instagram, whereas previously it was the smoko,” he says.
Ruppanner says all businesses also need to think about the other commitments that their workers have.
“Recognise that families today are more complicated than they were in the past,” she says.
“I think the best thing CEOs or business owners can do is not penalise their workers for their care demands – for men, as well as women.”
When taking all these things into account, it might be worth thinking outside the box.
“The concept of mindfulness is proving useful in the workplace, and things like the idea of having meetings where you walk around the block,” says McMillan.
“There’s something creative about walking and that’s the power of it – and the fact is we need to be more creative.”