The Freakonomics of well-being and productivity

What do young British Asian entrepreneurs think of the policy of a four-day working week?

Priyanka Mehta Wednesday 12th February 2020 10:06 EST

Nearly a decade ago when Dubner and Levitt published Freakonomics, their core rationalisations around incentive-driven economic and sociological policies were frowned upon. Now, these perhaps, are the very pillars on which a capitalistic economy thrives. The desire for people to get what they want or need, especially in a competitive market where others may pursue the same seems the formula for most recruiters to assess the target achieving capacity of an individual.

Breaking away from the traditional structure of a regular Monday-Friday office culture is the new norm of moving towards a “less working future”. Four-day working weeks have recently become the topic of debate. But what do young British Asian entrepreneurs think of the proposed idea?

“When you have to focus, you are more productive. If you can do what you need to do in 4 days, then what use is the 5th day? Wouldn't it be better to let people recharge properly for the next week? Certainly plenty of academic studies have shown this, and Microsoft's latest experiments in Japan with a 4-day work-week have shown a 40% productivity jump,” asks Darshan Sanghrajka, Founder, Super Being Labs. 

Upside: Flexible clocking hours and result-oriented work culture

Super Being Labs is a social innovation agency that creates digital products and offers services around improved lifestyles. Darshan works along with a team of 21 artists including strategists, creatives, designers, developers, and researchers. Some of their clients include Cabinet Office, Breast Cancer Now, Action for Children, Women's Aid and Telefonica among others. As is the atmosphere in most start-ups and creative agencies the work culture in Super Being Labs is also relatively relaxed. 

“Our work culture is based on the idea that great people work best when trusted. We don't have time sheets, we don't have people looking over people's shoulders, we just get the work done. Also because we are a pretty remote company, people can work from wherever is best for them. 

“I am not focussed on the hours slogged out by the team members as long as everyone gets their work done with the results required of them and leaving them happy and recharged,” he explains.

It may appear natural to clock 37-40 hours in a working week, and perhaps some during the weekend as well. However, these are the results of labour movements of the 19th and 20th centuries demanding limits to the toil that industrialism had imposed upon them in the post World War era. While some Scandinavian countries such as Finland mull over the introduction of this four-day working week concept, it is worth noting that the UK follows some of the longest working hours across the EU as noted by Eurostat. 

In a similar shift of policy at the annual party conference in Brighton last year, shadow chancellor John McDonnell proposed moving British workers to a 32-hour week–equivalent to four days–with no loss of pay. The change would happen within the next decade under a Labour government, he had proposed. Recently Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey has asserted the need to end ‘24/7 work culture’ and that workers must be allowed to ignore e-mails during the weekends. While in theory, these policies may foster emotional well-being, some entrepreneurs question if in reality, it would yield the same?

The downside: Crammed up work pressure, stress and employers willing to pay

“The downside of this approach is that it may result in people becoming increasingly stressed during the 4 days they actually do work especially if they are expected to produce the same output as they would in the 5 days however just in less time.

“There is also a question regarding the payment. Would employers be paying the same for you to work 4 days - would all employers be able to afford that? I think smaller employers would potentially be impacted by this especially as the jury is still out on whether cramming 5 days of work into 4 days is feasible and boosts productivity.,” argues Rajeeb Dey, Founder & CEO of Learnerbly.

Learnerbly is a workplace learning platform that enables businesses to empower their employees to own their professional development. Rajeeb works with a team of 21 professionals; with three of these members working remotely with him. And similar to Super Labs Being, the work culture in Learnerbly is based on trust and results. Additionally, the employees are cared for with personal Learning and Wellbeing allowances ranging from £1000 - £2000 to cover personal and professional development as well as the ability to avail their health cashback scheme to cover things like dentist, optician and physio costs (which also includes counselling and medical services). Explaining his skepticism around this policy, Rajeeb concludes,

“We don't clock watch - as long as you produce the results you can leave early; choose to work random hours it's ultimately about getting things done. Whether you stipulate 4 or 5 days is not necessarily going to change much. I think this may be something particularly prevalent in the startup ecosystem where people are driven by far more than just the salary or the fact it's a job. We constantly benchmark ourselves with other early-stage tech companies to ensure we're able to provide a great working environment and attract the very best talent.

“For organisations who have trialled it already the initial findings haven't been conclusive and many have reverted to the original 5-day models so I am currently more sceptical about this than I am supportive of the proposition until I can see more hard evidence of this impact and benefits it provides both to employees and employers.”

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