Workers’ mental health. Can a 4-day week model improve it?

In the years we are living, between the health and climate crisis and geopolitical and economic instabilities, workers and employers alike are facing big (big!) changes. They must deal with fast paces modifications and revisions of working cultures, structures, expectations and responsibilities. And the burden of adjusting to everchanging and intertwined global situations.

The results? On one side, how mental well-being is prioritized and valued in a company has become one of the main deciding factors in accepting a job offer or staying in a place. On the other, employers recognize mental health as a pressing issue; it influences offices’ atmosphere and performance and impacts turnover, retention and talent attraction. Therefore they are finding different possible ways to tackle it.

Among all the rest, Covid-19 also initiated a significant shift of perspectives and opened up a conversation about the need for better and more diverse working models. Many companies acknowledge the urgency to adjust and accommodate their workforce’s modified priorities, balancing the requests for better working environments and the demands of the current labour market. So much so that flexibility (next to “stress” and “anxiety”) continues to be the buzzword.

The 12th edition of the International Workforce Wellbeing Mindset study from the IT Service Management company Alight records a picture of the situation. Data collected from more than 10.000 workers worldwide show that 55% of employees consider leaving their company; 73% record moderate to high-stress levels; and only 24% of responders are able to be always or almost always effective during work hours. Moreover, if in Europe, workers tend to be generally more pessimistic regarding employee experience, in the US, 54% confirm that flexibility in the workplace tells employers apart.

From an “either/or” to “both/and” mentality

In prioritizing mental health among employees, the option of working a reduced number of days a week has been gaining popularity in the last few years. Far from being a new idea or model, it has diffusely entered also governments’ discussions and plans more clearly after the pandemic. Around Europe, examples are many. In the UK, the results of the extensive trial launched last year were overwhelmingly positive. In March, the BBC noted, “Among nearly 3.000 employees involved, 71% reported feeling reduced levels of burnout; there were also improvements in physical health and wellbeing.

Amid the results collected, many confirm that the four-day week, creating a better work-life balance, has given workers more space to decompress. Consequently, it made people happier, more productive, less stressed and influenced their outputs.

Scotland and Wales are implementing four-day working weeks pilots starting this year. In Belgium, workers won the right to perform full five workweeks in four days without losing any salary – they will not work less but condense their working hours in fewer days. More recently, the government in Portugal launched a six months pilot program for 39 businesses under the 100-80-100 model. Employees will receive 100% pay, working 80% of their usual time, but granting 100% output.

In Italy, where discussions are being around for some time, a late news comes from Intesa Sanpaolo. The bank reached agreements to offer and regulate, beside a four-day/nine hours per day week, smart working, flexibility and the right to disconnect for its employees.

To care for employees’ mental well-being

Undeniably, the model cannot be the right choice for every organization nor benefit all workers and employers equally. However, in the current labour market, different schemes can help build more inclusive workplaces, mainly thanks to the increased attention on workers’ mental health. And, then, benefit the outcomes with higher retention rates, happier and more effective workers, and ultimately with, generally, improved company reputation.

Commenting on their research on the changing labour market*, Silvia Maffucci, hr director of Alight, backs the idea that “The psychological well-being of employees is something no company should ignore. Every employee should be able to feel protected and supported by a work environment that is open to listening and ready to offer the right solutions catered to every individual’s needs.

If not addressed promptly, it can result in high levels of anxiety and stress, leading to a lack of motivation, reduced productivity, weak performance, and increased absenteeism. Every single member of the workforce needs to be equipped with the right tools and resources to ensure a stress-free work experience and to enable them to handle challenging situations in a practical and effective manner.”


* Surveying views on companies’ benefits programs, the study “Benefit sul luogo di lavoro in un mondo che cambia” on an Italian overview highlighted that mental well-being is the first priority for Italian employers.

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