Making time for learning and development in a four-day week

With less time at hand, it could be argued that L&D will be pushed out. But, says Matteo Penzo, it doesn’t have to be that way

The concept of a four-day working week is gaining popularity across the United Kingdom, with an increasing number of businesses recognising its potential benefits.

According to a recent YouGov report, 63 per cent of UK businesses believe that their staff would be either more productive (41 per cent) or equally productive (22 per cent) working a four-day week.

Meanwhile, 71 per cent of participants in the UK 4-Day Week Pilot reported reduced levels of burnout at the end of the trial.

The shift in work patterns, both here in the UK and internationally, has been spurred by the desire to create a better work-life balance for employees, while also reducing burnout, and increasing overall job satisfaction.

The reality is that a relatively small change in how companies organise their work schedule can bring a series of advantages, for employers as well as employees:

  • Increased productivity: Contrary to conventional belief, reducing the work week to four days can boost productivity among staff. With a shorter work week, employees are motivated to make the most of their time, leading to improved focus and efficiency.
  • Enhanced work-life balance: The four-day working week allows employees to have an extra day for personal commitments, family time or pursuing hobbies. This results in a healthier work-life balance and, in turn, leads to increased job satisfaction and reduced stress levels.
  • Reduced absenteeism and burnout: By providing employees with an additional day off work each week, companies can significantly reduce burnout and absenteeism rates. Rested and rejuvenated employees are more likely to be engaged, motivated and committed to their work.
  • Attraction and retention of top talent: Offering a four-day working week can be a powerful recruitment and retention tool. In a competitive job market, companies that prioritise work-life balance and employee wellbeing have a better chance of attracting and retaining top talent, especially when looking to the Gen-Z-fication of the job market.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that, as with all big innovations, not all that glitters is gold, and it’s not as simple as switching off your computer on a Thursday evening and walking away.

Implementing a four-day working week requires careful planning and adjustment and managers and employees need to adapt to new schedules, ensuring that workloads are managed effectively and deadlines are met.

Moreover, depending on the nature of the business, a reduced working week could potentially have an impact on customer service, if not managed correctly. It is imperative that companies carefully consider how to maintain service levels while accommodating new work practices and schedules.

Training sacrificed 

When it comes to reducing hours in the office, training is often the first casualty and the shift towards a four-day working week can have significant implications for corporate training and learning and development initiatives.

Some might argue that reduced working hours offer less time for learning and may create a new working class where upskilling will become impossible. This needn’t be the case though, and instead of creating learning roadblocks, the shorter working week may be the best thing to happen in L&D. 

Traditionally, companies of all types and sizes have invested significant time and resources in lengthy training programmes that may not always align with employees' actual needs or job requirements.

The reality is that the length of time a training programme takes is not necessarily indicative of its worth or its success, and with shorter work weeks, companies need to prioritise and tailor training programmes to address specific skill gaps and provide more targeted learning experiences.

The micro-learning approach to L&D, for instance, benefits both companies and employees, allowing businesses to allocate resources more effectively, investing in training programmes that yield tangible results.

Targeted learning 

On the other side of the scale, employees can reap the rewards too, focusing on acquiring skills and knowledge that directly contribute to their professional growth and job performance, rather than just participating in a series of box-ticking exercises.

This shift towards targeted learning ensures that training efforts are more efficient, impactful and relevant. Employees are more likely to be engaged in such training and this has obvious benefits for the company too.

With the introduction of a four-day working week becoming more and more common in businesses across the UK, companies are being forced to revisit and revise their procedures to accommodate the intensified engagement during the shortened workweek.

In many cases, this is leading to a more streamlined and efficient work environment, as employees become motivated to make the most of their limited work hours. As part of this, and by eliminating time-consuming and redundant training modules, companies can create a more focused and impactful learning experience, resulting in a win-win for all involved. 

The four-day working week presents an opportunity to adapt training programmes to suit employee lifestyles and improve work-life balance. Micro-learning, a concept that involves delivering training content in bite-sized, easily digestible formats, becomes particularly relevant in this context. With limited work hours, employees can engage in short bursts of learning, maximising their productivity and enabling them to retain new information much more effectively.

Micro-learning modules can be designed to fit into employees' schedules, allowing them to learn at their own pace, when and where they prefer. This flexible approach ensures that training is not sacrificed due to reduced availability, but instead integrated seamlessly into employees' work routines.

By embracing this type of training, companies can empower employees to take charge of their own development, while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Leveraging technology

To make the most of the four-day working week and its impact on learning and development, companies must leverage technology. Online learning platforms, virtual classrooms and mobile apps enable employees to access training materials anytime, anywhere and this is especially true when microtraining sessions can be delivered directly to mobile devices.

Technology can also facilitate social learning and collaboration, allowing employees to connect with peers and mentors and empowering them to share knowledge and engage in discussions.

By adopting mobile microlearning, companies can also harness the power of data analytics to gain insights into employees' learning preferences and track their progress. This data-driven approach helps identify areas for improvement and refine training programs to meet specific needs.

By embracing technology and leveraging data, businesses can create dynamic and personalised learning experiences that align with the new work patterns and maximise the benefits of the four-day working week.

The four-day working week presents a unique opportunity for companies to enhance employee engagement, productivity, and work-life balance. While this new work pattern may require adjustments and careful planning, the potential benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

With the right approach, the shorter working week enables companies to streamline work processes and can revolutionise learning and development, empowering employees to acquire relevant skills and knowledge while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Embracing technology and adopting innovative training methods will further amplify the impact of the four-day working week, ensuring that companies and employees can thrive in the digital age and enjoy a happier and healthier work-life balance.

Matteo Penzo is the CEO and co-founder of zick learn