Working hard is an essential part of any job, regardless of what the role is. What does vary, however, is how hard work translates into productivity and efficiency. 

As long as the modern world has functioned the way it does, people lived by the five-day work week. This has been the standard for most jobs, other than those that require odd hours or the covering of around-the-clock shifts. 

However, the start of the 21st century brought with it some changed ideas about productivity. In 2007, Timothy Ferriss published a book called “The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”. The book challenged societal norms and looked at ways people could work smarter, not harder, to achieve a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. 

Of course, we’re not literally talking about working only four hours a week. It’s just about the idea that we can design a lifestyle that prioritizes personal freedom and happiness over working for the sake of working. While at the same, finding the most efficient and effective ways to be as productive as possible. 

For HR managers, productivity is the key to a successful workforce, and thinking outside the box is something that can help to boost this. Learning more about the 4-hour work week and how to integrate its principles can greatly boost team morale and productivity, leading to improved performance and better employee retention. 

Here’s how HR can change the way employees work for the better.

4-hour work week
Image by Freepik

How To Change The Working Mindset

Now, in theory, it all sounds great—stepping away from the generally accepted notion that we work to live and enjoy our lives and hobbies in our free time. Rather, the four-hour work week is pushing for the idea that we don’t need to only enjoy our lives during our two days off a week. 

Ferriss talks about many ways that you can make this work while still retaining productivity levels, and he’s not alone in his thinking. 

In Iceland, a four-day work week was trialed between 2015 and 2019, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Not only were employees happier, but productivity remained the same or improved. Other countries have also trialed shorter working weeks, with Japan, Spain, the UK, and New Zealand all experiencing positive results. Additionally,  many employees in the US and Canada have expressed interest in reducing the working week, even if they worked longer hours for fewer days.

With so much interest in reducing working hours and with the results of doing so being positive, this is a topic that’s worth delving deeper into. We’re going to examine what you can do to ensure that, as an HR professional, you can introduce the principles of a four-hour work week in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Embrace Technology and Automation

These days, technology is progressing at such a rapid rate that there are constantly new and exciting ways it can help to streamline tasks and work more efficiently. 

However, this doesn’t always mean that technology has to take over completely. Utilizing technology in the workplace may just mean using tech in conjunction with the usual work process. For example, AI may be used to create rough drafts of documentation, or certain tasks such as data entry may get automated.

HR can play an integral role in encouraging the use of technology and automation that boosts engagement, productivity, and efficiency. The more technology is implemented in the workplace, the easier employees will find it to perform their tasks, and the less risk of burnout will occur. 

Prioritize Delegation & Collaboration

When there’s a lot of work to get done, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. But the secret to dealing with this is to ensure that employees have the tools and resources they need to delegate efficiently. 

Delegation requires communication and collaboration. HR can encourage this behavior between employees and provide the necessary platforms for interaction. As an HR professional or people manager, you can ask teams what they require to collaborate and communicate efficiently. Once this is established, you can provide the resources and training needed to ensure everyone is onboard. This will allow for clear delegation and the creation of a thriving and productive remote work environment.

Assess Workload and Responsibilities

Jobs change constantly, and HR needs to ensure that employees’ roles and responsibilities don’t become overwhelming. Having regular check-ins and implementing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure performance, goals, and output can keep employees and teams in check.

There’s often a difference between what employees are responsible for and what they’re actually capable of getting done. By assessing workload and measuring quantifiable progress and performance, it’s possible to create a good balance that doesn’t tip too far over to the overloaded side. 

Experiment with New Ways of Working

The idea of the four-hour work week completely goes against the norm. So, it only makes sense that in order to get it right, HR needs to change the workplace to accommodate new ideas. Remote working has become the norm since 2020, as has the hybrid working model that sees employees split time between home and the office. The hybrid model has proven to be very successful in promoting productivity in the US, with 2022 reports revealing that 21.8% of hybrid employees say they’re more productive and 50.8% are more highly engaged. 

However, there are several other ways to structure work, and some of these include:

      • Flexi-time: Employees choose their working hours based on a pre-agreed structure.
      • Compressed working hours: Employees work their total contracted hours over fewer days a week.
      • Task-based time: Structuring job expectations around specific tasks rather than specific hours.
      • Core working hours: Set times when employees must work during a day/week. 

The common thread through all of these structures is time management. In order for each option to be a success, HR needs to track hours to ensure that every employee is fulfilling their obligations. Automated time clocks are an excellent solution here, especially if employees opt to work shifts or there are concerns about remaining compliant with labor laws. 

Focus On Results, Not Hours 

Last but not least, the moral of the story—it’s all about the product of labor—that is, the results; rather than the amount of time spent doing something. Whether employees spend all day on a task or five hours, what matters most is that it gets done and that it gets done properly. 

Don’t focus on how much time employees take to do something. Rather, make sure that they’re getting it done properly and as quickly as possible without compromising on quality. 

Wrapping Up

HR professionals play a major role in how employees work, the hours they work, and the overall workplace culture. By implementing the principles of the 4-day work week, you can create an environment that promotes productivity without pushing employees to perform specific tasks on a strict (and often unrealistic) schedule. 

Take action to adopt these principles, and you’ll see that the traditional 9-5, 5-day week isn’t the only way to work.