There’s been a lot of buzz about a 4-day workweek. But it will be the ‘4 + 1’ workweek that ultimately wins out: 4 days of “work” and 1 day of “learning.” Several forces are converging in a way that point toward the inevitability of this workplace future. Demand for flexible work, an appetite for learning, growth and development as a top priority among employees, and a fast-growing need for constant upskilling and reskilling will lead most employers to a 4 +1 workweek.
More than 9-out-of-10 employees desire a 4-day workweek but only 6% of senior leaders say they are currently offering or planning to offer it. And the single biggest reason leaders are struggling with the idea is fear about lost productivity. Early case studies suggest employers can be successful with shorter and more productive workweeks. But we may be missing the larger point here. U.S. employers are currently struggling with a talent shortage – most especially in roles that require new economy skills. Our gap in productivity is less about workers slacking off or not working enough and more about simply not having people who are trained or qualified for a particular role.
A 2019 IBM study estimated the time it takes to close the skills gap between open jobs and skilled workers capable of filling them has increased 10-fold. In 2014, the average time it took to close a skill gap was three days; by 2018 that had increased to a whopping 36 days. With stagnated population growth in the U.S. and a slowing of immigration, employers are faced with turning toward the existing workforce to find solutions for faster growth. In simple terms, it’s about employers growing their own talent. Suddenly, the tension about lost productivity due to a shorter workweek comes into direct conflict with the hard reality that nearly all employers will need to dedicate more time to training and learning for employees.
Add to this the meteoric rise in employees’ desires for learning, growth and development as a key criterion for selecting a job. A Gallup-Amazon study indicates 65% of employees say employer-provided upskilling is very important to evaluating a job. Further, there’s a considerable jump in employees’ interest in skilling if it’s done during work hours; 46% indicated interest in skilling outside of work hours while 65% indicated interest doing so during work hours. And to put a fine point on retention benefits, 71% of workers who participated in upskilling agree it enhanced their satisfaction with work while roughly two-thirds say it has raised their standard of living and quality of life. Enter the 4 +1 workweek.
A 4 +1 workweek will take various forms. It can be structured in so many different ways. For some employers it may literally be 4 days of work and 1 day of learning/training per week. For many, it will follow the flow of work demands where for some roles it may be blocks of learning and training time sprinkled throughout each day. For others, it could mean entire weeks or months dedicated to learning and training. However it takes shape, though, it’s inevitable.
Employers’ embrace of a 4-day workweek will improve dramatically as more recognize this moment as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign work and America’s talent development pipeline. If productivity is currently the biggest fear of a 4-day workweek, productivity will soon be the biggest rallying cry for the 4 +1 workweek. And given all the data indicating employee support for skilling on the job, there’s little doubt the American workforce will embrace this move. The future is 4 +1.
by Brandon Busteed
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