THURSDAY 23 MAR 2023 9:20 AM


Lottie Bazley, senior strategic internal communications adviser at Staffbase, considers what a four-day week means for company culture and the role of internal communicators.

What are the different four-day week approaches that companies can take?

I think there will be many different approaches. Companies should be open to people using these reduced hours in flexible ways. They might want to continue on a five-day week, but with shorter days. We might see leaders of businesses start to get questions from employees about what their stance is on this as a business. It is important that if you decide that you don’t want to make this move, employees should be made aware of that or, at the very least, you should be prepared to answer questions about why not.

Crucially, companies need to be making sure they're listening to their employees to find out what their out-of-work responsibilities might be, whether they're parents or carers and even whether they have second jobs. We can't just have this blanket four-day working week rule; companies and leaders need to be empathetic. 

What are the pros and cons of a four-day week?

Of course, there are the really obvious pros: boosting happiness, stress reduction, fewer sick days, increased employee retention. Also, it's a kind of a social statement that you're making as a company to say that: "We're making sure we're staying relevant, we're listening to our employees, we've moved on from outdated ways of working."

For me, I don't necessarily see any particular cons. I feel like there probably are companies that might not execute it in a particularly great way, but I think that I see that as more the risks for businesses.

We need to be conscious that we're making this a sustainable change from trial to reality: the main goal of implementing a four-day week ultimately is that it should improve employee wellbeing and increase productivity rather than adding stress and anxiety. 

There is also the concern that fewer hours makes the workplace less sociable. Of course, nobody likes forced or structured fun, but it's really important that companies are making sure that there's still space for employees to have those social connections, those so-called 'watercooler moments'. This means creating online social spaces for people if we're not going into the office and creating open channels on your intranet where employees can communicate with each other. 

Do you think this is leading to a break-up of workplace culture? 

I think it depends on the business itself. It's about figuring out what those 'watercooler moments' are when people aren't in the office.

If we don't have those physical chats in the kitchen over a coffee like we used to do five years ago, we can learn from people who are already having those moments elsewhere and make sure that we're nurturing those kind of interactions. Then equally, the flip side is that people are coming into the office more often because they know it's only for four days out of the week.

Are companies more comfortable with communicating big changes post-pandemic?

We as internal communicators - during the pandemic - relied heavily on leadership figures. So I definitely feel like that was a steep learning curve for managers and leaders to become communicators themselves during that time.

I would hope that they they feel comfortable enough to to maybe have some of those essentially trickier conversations around change in general, not just the four-day working week. That is also a double-edged sword, however, because they then rely less on the internal communications teams, which could result in some inconsistency in messaging.

Do you think this has potential to be disruptive as each company tries to figure out what best suits them?

I think it has the potential to be. That disruption might not necessarily be negative disruption - it might be a positive disruption - but ultimately it's going to have a huge impact on the people that work in a business. It might have an impact on the processes within a business.

If you're a 24-hour, customer-facing company, you can't just not work for for three days. There are so many moving parts to this that I definitely feel that it has the potential to be disruptive. I once heard someone say that people don't necessarily fear change; they fear uncertainty.

How will this impact the role of internal communicators?

I think it will be a big shift because we will have less time to get messages out to people. It's one for communicators in general and we'll just have to think: is there something we need to do now to adapt our communication style? 

If people are working fewer hours, we need to make sure that our communications strategy is simple and easy to access. We need to be able to summarise things, so things such as weekly newsletters could come in really handy. It will also be important for communicators to make sure that we're supporting the social channels that people will probably come to rely on.