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The pandemic has greatly accelerated changes in the workplace after millions of people around the world discovered the benefits of working from home. However, not every job can be performed remotely and there are many advantages to showing up at the office, as most people work in teams.

One response to these challenges was a proposal to, instead of working remotely, simply reduce the work week by providing an extra day for personal affairs. This would give employees a greater work-life balance, which may produce productivity benefits, making up for the time reduction.

And while there have been many promising trials of the idea around the world, one of the longest ones has, unfortunately, just ended in failure.

Magyar Telekom, the Hungarian arm of Deutsche Telekom, a German telecommunications giant, which has conducted the test for the past 20 months, has decided to return to a traditional 5-day schedule at the end of February.

Deutsche Telekom logo. Image Credit: Wirestock / depositphotos

The trial of the 4-day, 36-hour week, which covered 300 people across the company of around 5000 employees, began in the summer of 2022. Participants were selected across different departments, including customer service, technical fault repair, technology sales support, and SAP systems.

The goal was to collect information about working efficiency under tighter, more intensive weekly schedules in different roles while providing the same basic salary.

Disappointingly, after more than a year and a half, the drawbacks outweighed the advantages, and the company was returning to business as usual.

Started with a bang…

The program began with a 4-month run in 2022 involving 150 staff across four teams and was initially considered a success:

“Building on international experience, we found that three consecutive days off make work and leisure time more balanced, improve colleagues’ quality of life and enable them to perform more effectively in the workplace with well-coordinated work organisation.”

Chief People Officer of Magyar Telekom Zsuzsanna Friedl, November 2022

Internal surveys suggested that the performance of customer-facing workers improved by 10 per cent, while over 90 per cent of them felt they now had enough time for their personal lives and would prefer to stay on the new schedule in the future.

It all looked like a win-win situation. Encouraged by this promising start, the company doubled the number of participants and extended coverage to more departments throughout 2023.

This is when cracks started showing.

…ended with a whimper

As admitted by the company in its recent announcement, not all employees ended up performing as expected.

In fact, the majority struggled to maintain the same efficiency at work and while an additional day off sounded like a very attractive benefit, adding an hour to each of the four remaining work days couldn’t always be handled by employees due to personal obligations.

Image Credit: DaLiu / depositphotos

Beyond individual performance, the new arrangement also upset the scheduling of collaborative work across the entire organisation, as not all workers could be placed on a shorter week.

This is why, given that:

  • not everybody can work only four days
  • many people handled it poorly
  • scheduling conflicts would make it impossible to employ two different regimes for workers in different departments, who often have to work together

the company has made a decision to conclude the trial and return to a uniform 5-day work week starting in March 2024.

“After a year and a half of testing, it became clear that it would not possible to introduce a solution that can be used uniformly by all employees, due to individual or work process restrictions, and the parallel operation of the 4-day and 5-day work schedule would represent business risks in the long run. In light of this, the company’s management has decided to act responsibly and to close the pilot period of the 4-day working week on February 29, 2024, with continued effort to find a solution that can be undertaken by as many colleagues as possible and generally ensures an improvement in work-life balance.”

Not dead but not for everyone

These results are some of the most important ever recorded, as they reveal that many short trials may provide conclusions too quickly, particularly for large corporations.

After all, the first four months were very promising for Magyar Telekom too. It wasn’t until the run was extended to almost 2 years, involving considerably more people and units of the business, that problems began to manifest themselves.

There is some evidence to suggest that a 4-day work arrangement can work in smaller companies as well as those where flexible or remote work is already practised.

It is certainly much easier to pull it off when your business does not involve daily provision of products or services, or direct interactions with clients/customers.

That’s why if you’re holding out hope for a shorter week at work, not all is lost yet. The idea is certainly not dead but it is clear it’s not for everyone either.

Categories: News Reader, Opinions

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)