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Research found women should work only 30 hours a week!

Updated: Dec 10, 2022

Earlier this year, the UK embarked on the world's biggest trial of a four-day work week. More than 3,300 employees at 70 companies agreed to work one day less for full pay and a commitment to keep up their normal productivity levels. The pilot runs for six months, but it is off to a promising start.

Some companies have already taken the leap and are seeing the rewards. Software service provider Arken successfully transitioned to a four-day work week after finding that staff were happier and more productive working these hours throughout the pandemic. When asked how they would rate productivity since the switch, 76% said they felt more productive, while 19% said they felt just as efficient as when they worked five days.

The firm had been in favour of a four-day work for quite some time, but Pippa Shepherd, company head of customer engagement, said the first lockdown allowed them to put it into practice. She explained the decision: "Studies show that a four-day work week boosts employee work-life balance and lowers burnout without sacrificing productivity."

Hailed as the future of employee productivity and work-life balance, advocated for the four-day work week suggests that when implemented, worker satisfaction increases, as does productivity. Another benefit will be a boost to mental health and employees under less stress.

The evidence is overwhelmingly supportive. Last year in Iceland, researchers found that a four-day workweek without a pay cut improved workers' well-being and productivity. Microsoft's Japan offices also trialled it and saw a whopping 40% increase in productivity. New Zealand and Sweden have seen similar results.

But one potential benefit of a four-day week that's received far too little attention is the reduction of gender inequity.

How four-day work will help society thrive

While every employee can benefit from an extra day off, the reality is that women, especially parents and caregivers, typically bear more household responsibilities, such as childcare and cleaning. When these factors are considered, women continue to work longer hours for less money than men.

According to a recent report by the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), a shorter working week could, in fact, help close the gender pay gap.

When Covid-19 first struck, changing our working patterns, WBG researchers studied the impact this had on unpaid care works. As men’s working hours declined, their time spent on unpaid care at home increased. While women continued to do most of this unpaid labour, men’s share increased to 40% from 34% in 2015.

In the second phase of the pandemic, when men resumed their normal working hours, the trend came to a disappointing end. This suggests that a shortage of working weeks could lead to a more even distribution of housework and care responsibilities.

During the pandemic, when mothers had to juggle these responsibilities as well as complete their work tasks, many of them reached the end of their tether. As per Deloitte's 'Women@Work 2022: A Global Outlook' report, about 56% of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, and almost half feel burned out. A significant proportion of whom plan to quit their jobs within the next two years due to burnout and inflexible working hours.

As women continue to exit the workforce, the question at the tip of their tongue is: Does my workplace work for me? For many, the answer is no. Something needs to change, and a four-day work week could be the solution.

But, similar to the debate after menstrual leave was introduced, would that put employers off from promoting women to leadership positions? Could this policy be a double-edged sword for women’s career progression when their male counterparts have no problem volunteering to work overtime just to get ahead?

At Upgrading Women, we believe that to make a business case for a shorter work week, we must first prove that we don’t need to work such long hours to achieve business goals. At the end of the day, everyone in the company is working towards productivity and profitability.

How, you ask?

Firstly, do you not wonder why we work as long (if not longer in start-up and corporate environments) than the previous generation that had no Internet access and personal computers? I do.

The project management software, Click Up, guarantees that one can save one day a week with the correct use of its tools. That is only from one software; what about the rest? Yet almost like defying logic, technology still isn’t enabling us to work shorter hours. I thus hypothesise that the problem lies with the user.

For example, if you google “presentation software”, you will find virtually endless options from PowerPoint to Prezi. But can any of those pieces of software undo the old habit of the user pasting everything on the slide and reading it out like a karaoke session?

Would the spectral virtual meeting platforms, even when used standing up, remove the culture of letting the most senior user in the room digress endlessly? Would writing AI be able to clarify your thinking if you don’t even know what you are trying to say? No, no and no.

Humans have habits, cultures, moods and varying strengths of memory and discipline. We at Upgrading Women hypothesise that if we train the human to unlearn old, unproductive habits, we can eventually make a business case of working much, much shorter hours and finally have a life.

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