CIOs Try To Determine How Many Days Each Week People Should Work

Is working fewer hours the new normal?
Is working fewer hours the new normal? Image Credit: Nekessa Opoti

Let’s face it – the pandemic changed everything for CIOs. For a year, all of their employees worked from home. All of the debates about remote workers pretty much went out the window when everyone become a remote worker almost overnight. Now that the pandemic has become a thing of the past, CIOs are being forced to confront a new reality. Is the traditional 5 days a week, 40 hours a week work schedule the right schedule for everyone? Could there be alternatives and would there be any reason for us to adopt an alternative?

A Change Is Coming

The person with the CIO job had to embrace remote work during the initial stage of the pandemic. Now many CIOs wants to reward employees who stuck around with a new perk: the four-day workweek. Some CIOs plan to allow their employees to clock eight fewer hours over four days for no less pay. This is being done in many places as, as part of a pilot study. The CIOs’ bet is that the shortened schedule will allow workers to juggle work and home life while having more time for personal pursuits. The hope is that staff will be just as productive in carrying out the company’s mission, if not more so. CIOs understand that you can’t learn until you start doing it. CIOs are willing to take this risk because people are curious what it will look like and if it will work.

Covid-19 called into question long-held views about the structure and nature of work, including the tradition of the five-day, 40-hour week. When everyone went to remote arrangements it freed employees of some constraints, but it also sparked burnout as some put in even longer hours. The result of all of this is that many workers are demanding an improved work-life balance as they return to the office. This is why many people in the CIO position are allowing employees who work for them to be able to work fewer hours per week over four days as part of a pilot study. The experience of the pandemic and working from home has made CIOs begin to question all the face-time requirements of the workplace. It turns out that most of us can get our work done and then go home.

In a tough labor market where some employees are quitting their jobs and employers are having to compete for top talent, the benefit of a shorter week is already a recruitment tool for some CIOs. Widespread adoption, however, will face a number of hurdles in the U.S. A handful of small, privately held American companies have experimented with shorter weeks since the pandemic’s onset; however, many large companies have not embraced the concept. Back in 2019, Microsoft Corp. discontinued their temporary four-day week in Japan after five weeks. It could also be a tough sell for those hourly workers who live from paycheck to paycheck. If we go to a four-day workweek and workers are paid for four days, then that simply won’t work for many Americans.

Not The First Time

CIOs need to remember that earlier attempts to make a shorter workweek stick in the U.S. were unsuccessful. In the past some companies reduced weekly worker hours below 40 during the Great Depression in order to share what little work was available. In 1933 the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have limited the workweek to just 30 hours. However, after President Franklin Roosevelt dropped his support for the bill, it didn’t pass the House. Five years later, the idea of a 40-hour workweek became standard as it was a part of the New Deal legislation. Interestingly enough, working more hours does not always make a country more productive. The idea of working a shorter workweek has long had more traction outside the U.S. This is true especially in places where long working hours and stress are not as big a part of their culture. CIOs need to realize that in some high-paying American sectors that are used to being a part of the world’s largest economy, such as finance and the law, working late nights and weekends is still a badge of honor and can lead to a promotion.

For large corporate companies in America, working fewer hours wouldn’t fit the culture of expecting everyone to be available at any given point of time in highly competitive business where decisions need to be made quickly. A shorter workweek is more likely to be a good fit for smaller service businesses, but not for larger companies in highly competitive industries. A shorter week certainly doesn’t work for the senior executive team. Broadly implementing a four day workweek policy now won’t work for every company. Having a shorter work week sounds good, but alone it’s not going to solve an organization’s problems of being unable to prioritize. CIOs have to understand that it’s more complicated and nuanced than just taking a day out of work.

A critical component to making the shorter week work is that employees have to relearn how to work in a more focused way. That means holding fewer meetings and trying to avoid day-to day distractions. At many companies most workers take Friday off; some take Monday; and a smaller group, mostly parents, spread their time off across five days. Subtracting a day from the workweek can be a logistical challenge for any company. Companies have to change customer interactions and productivity measurements, not to mention scheduling, if some employees or teams take off on different days.

The evidence is also mixed as to how effective shorter workweeks have been in countries that that have embraced the concept. In Germany, efforts to shorten working hours might have hurt employment. A 35-hour policy in France did little to increase employment. Other overseas pilots are in the works. Spain’s government said it would pay companies to test out a four-day week. And London consumer goods giant Unilever launched a pilot of the concept in its New Zealand offices. One country that did show positive results was Iceland. Here there is new evidence that a reduced schedule worked for some participants there. A group of more than 2,500 employees in Iceland who logged fewer hours without a pay cut showed improvements in their well-being and productivity. A shorter workweek also demands a change in a company’s culture, CIOs have to let go of the myth that long working hours lead to better results.

What All Of This Means For You

The world has changed and CIOs are trying to find out how they can adjust. When the pandemic hit, everyone was sent home to work for a year. Now that we have been able to move beyond the pandemic, CIOs are trying to decide if long lasting changes to how people work for the company might be a good idea. One idea that has been suggested is to go with a shorter week with no change in pay. CIOs need to understand this idea and determine if it would work at their company.

Pilot studies are being conducted where workers are allowed to work only four days a week. The pandemic changed everyone’s work schedule and it caused some workers to experience burn out. Being able to offer workers a shorter work week can be a good recruiting tool. There have been earlier attempts to move to a shorter work week but they have all failed. Working fewer hours is not an option for some departments and senior management. If they work fewer hours, workers have to relearn how to work. Reduced working hours in other countries has had mixed results.

The new world that we live in will require CIOs to make changes to the way that work gets done. We’ve been able to make it through a pandemic that turned everything upside down. Now we need to determine how the work week has been reshaped by the events that we’ve been able to live through. Shortening a work week to fewer hours is a novel idea. There are, of course, risks and disadvantages to doing this. However, there can be a significant upside for our workers. CIOs need to carefully balance the changes that they are considering and determine what would work best for their company.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How could a CIO determine if switching to a 32 hour work week was a bad idea?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a CIO you have probably already heard about face recognition technology. This is the technology that can allow your firm to do away with things that don’t seem to work like passwords, fingerprints, and security fobs. Instead, all an employee has to do to gain access to an area or an application is to show a computer their face and then they are in. Since everyone always has their face and since all of our faces are unique, this seems like a great solution to a lot of the security problems that the person with the CIO job is currently facing. However, despite the importance of information technology, it turns out that this may not be the magic bullet that we’ve been looking for.