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Arguments for flexible work hours and four day week

Give staff more staff autonomy and try four day workweek

Give staff more autonomy.  Leaders should emphasis employees’ output as opposed to focusing on hours worked. People with knowledge work roles can choose work hours where hours worked do not translate to performance. Try a four day workweek also for jobs where staff have to show up at work to be productive like assembly line workers and cashiers. This may result in people working fewer days but longer hours which impacts the type of talent organisations can attract.

These proposals are presented by three researchers at London School of Economics and Political Science  writing in California Management Review.

The researchers’ key takeaways are that implementing a ‘remote-first approach’ and empowering employees with more autonomy can be advantageous for both firms and employees. However, more autonomy is unlikely to lead to favourable outcomes if leaders do not foster a high-trust environment. Therefore, leaders should get comfortable with having less control and should focus on what their employees are actually achieving.

The researchers at the university’s Inclusion Initiative are Yolanda Blavo, Research Officer in Behavioural Science,  Grace Lordan, founding director of The Inclusion Initiative and associate professor and Jasmine Virhia, Postdoctoral Researcher in Behavioural Science.  

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“We argue that leaders should place a stronger emphasis on employees’ output as opposed to focusing on hours worked. The needs of employees are varied, and where people work most productively is unique to each individual. Therefore, we posit that there is no ideal singular approach that leaders should implement regarding the organization of work and time. “

“Our argument is supported for professional workers in finance and professional services by our latest research on behalf of Women in Banking and Finance, which involved 100 in-depth interviews with employees of all career stages in the UK. 

“We asked our 100 diverse voices about their perceptions of what the future of work should entail allowing for a productive, inclusive workforce. Interestingly, none of the diverse voices stated that they would choose to be in the office most of the time. In fact, 95% of the participants advocated for a more autonomous mode of working.”

“From the participants’ perspective, working remotely did not appear to decrease productivity, and some participants even noticed an improvement in their productivity working remotely. Our research illuminated that employees would benefit from greater autonomy regarding where and how they work.” 

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The researchers argue that leaders should place a stronger emphasis on employees’ output as opposed to focusing on hours worked. 

“The needs of employees are varied, and where people work most productively is unique to each individual. Therefore, we posit that there is no ideal singular approach that leaders should implement regarding the organization of work and time.” 

“Our findings support that leaders take a ‘remote-first’ approach, which consists of running operations without expecting employees to commute to the office regularly. Offering remote working options has implications for the inclusion of all employees. For example, the opportunities for employees with disabilities have increased.” 

“Additionally, we found that a ‘remote-first’ approach can be particularly beneficial for parents or people with caring responsibilities to balance their work and non-work responsibilities better.”

“For a ‘remote-first’ approach to be successful, our research suggests that leaders should relinquish some control and be wary of micromanaging employees because it may negatively affect productivity.” 

“Further, we found that leaders’ desire for control can be detrimental to the mental health of employees and their sense of psychological safety.”

The researchers write that to move away from rules to be present at the office, leaders should focus on clear and measurable outputs instead of hours worked. These outputs should be the basis for performance evaluations, promotions, and pay. 

“This shift can have positive implications for minimizing pay gaps because those with caring responsibilities may be unable to work longer hours. Therefore, focusing on rewarding employees based on clear outputs instead of hours worked can help reduce pay gaps.” 

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“Although it may be challenging for some leaders to trust employees to be productive, there is empirical evidence that providing employees with more autonomy can actually help to improve their performance.

The researchers also argue:   

  • Leaders should prioritize fostering high trust-high competency work environments by providing employees with more autonomy. We propose that leaders give employees autonomy regarding where and when they work. 
  • For employees to thrive with a great amount of autonomy, leaders should give employees clear objectives, and they should be empowered to be innovative and take risks without receiving backlash. If they are unsure about something, they should feel psychologically safe enough to raise this concern to their leader. 
  • To engender trust in remote work environments, leaders should make time for the socialization of employees and team building. To support team building, leaders should make sure that team members are very clear on their roles and what is expected of them. Moreover, leaders should know their employees well and should connect them to the team’s mission.  
  • To support employees in a remote environment, leaders should be mindful of the quality of feedback they give to employees and should be there to advise and support employees if they experience challenges.
  • To determine whether ‘remote-first’ is suitable for an organization, leaders should experiment. For experimentation to be useful, leaders must clearly define the ideal outcome of the ‘remote first’ intervention. Leaders may opt for a ‘before-and-after’ approach consisting of implementing a ‘remote-first’ strategy and observing whether there is an upward or downward trend in employee performance over time.
  • Leaders could also allow teams to experiment with how many days they work remotely compared to how many they work in the office and see what works best for them and their productivity. 
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