Closing the skills gap while improving Employee eXperience with 4.5-days

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Longed for by many employees and visibly appreciated by more countries and employers, 4-day workweek is becoming the star of the year, when we talk about employee experience (EX). With the Great Resignation gaining steam worldwide, more employers awaken to the need for improved employee wellbeing and job satisfaction, which 4-day workweek evidently serves well to.

But is it enough to simply cross one day off from the working calendar to reap the most benefit from this new work arrangement? In this article, I want to explore the topic of merging heightened employee wellbeing with closing the skills gap for improved employee experience.

Addressing the skills gap 

Accelerated digitalization of work exposed the unmet need for a massive workforce uskilling. During the past two years, recruiters faced a challenge to find talents with all the required skills for the positions to fill. At the same time, employees are dissatisfied with hands-off approach by their employers for skill acquisition. Of course, there are a lot of role models, organizations that offer learning to all their employees and actively help them to stay relevant on the job. Why then, couldn’t we learn to apply this practice as a commonplace?

When I asked on LinkedIn, whose responsibility should the acquisition of new skills be – the answers were divided. However, the majority leaned towards employees being responsible for their continuous education. While I don’t negate, that personal drive to learn is important, I’d like to highlight, that in the dynamically changing world this should be a joined effort. Governments, companies and workforce should all come together to  address this challenge. Here’s where Singapore government could serve as a role model with SkillsFuture programs catering to all demographic groups with an appropriate upskilling/reskilling offer.

When you make people feel seen, heard and appreciated – they will pay you back with their commitment and diligence.

On the company level, creating a truly learning organization requires a lot of effort. But this effort will bring a compound interest in the form of a resilient workforce, characterized by heightened sense of purpose and increased job satisfaction. Caring about one’s employees’ continuous development makes the latter feel appreciated. When you make people feel seen, heard and appreciated – they will pay you back with their commitment and diligence.

Improving Employee Experience with reduced working hours

One of the biggest pitfalls in the transitioning to a 4-day workweek is not accounting for working hours. It isn’t enough to declare that your company has a 4-day workweek, when each of these days your employees work 12 hours. Probably, the 4-day workweek should be called 32-hours workweek to reflect the idea correctly. In reality, 4-day workweek does not (always) mean that your operating hours are Monday to Thursday. It could still be 5 days a week with 6.5 hours daily. Yes, this can be legitimately called a 4-day workweek!

Here are some best practices to take into consideration when planning transition to a shorter workweek:

Design, test, get feedback, learn

It may sound obvious, but still worth highlighting. You can’t just implement change from one day to another. You need to see how shorter workweek fits bets with your organization, addressing the culture and specific ways of working. Start with a pilot or staged rollout, where you can test and gain feedback from your employees about what works and what doesn’t. Learn from the feedback and re-design each stage as needed before making the final decision.

Plan enough time for the transition

Similarly to the previous point, plan enough time for the change to take its effect. In many cases, 3-months testing is enough for a successful transition to a shorter workweek. But this will vary based on the size of your organization, current working practices and a bunch of other factors. 

Look closer into time wasters 

To facilitate the transition it is important to have a look at the time-wasting activities in your organization and reduce them to the essential minimum. Number one candidate for this is meetings. A lot of updates could be made asynchronously over chat instead of 1-hour long meetings, where majority of participants multitask doing something else while being on the call.

In-office meetings are characterized by similar time wasting, often including people, who are not the key stakeholders for the message. For them, a one-paragraph highlight would be enough. By expecting their attendance, an organization essentially robs its employees of productive working time. Or worse – extends working hours unnecessarily.

Other than meetings in time-wasting bucket are procedures and processes which are not designed for simplicity and transparency. They are very easy to identify through employees surveys and interviews.

With a bit too many meetings an organization essentially robs its employees of productive working time. Or worse – extends working hours unnecessarily.

We just addressed some of the challenges of implementing shorter workweek. Now, let’s see how it could be simultaneously enhanced with the benefit of becoming a learning organization. 

Embedding learning into work experience 

Talking about upskilling, you can find different information as to the amount of time needed for the training to stay relevant. A good benchmark point is around 100 hours a year. In other words, employees should spend an hour on learning every 3 days to stay relevant in their existing roles. So how could an organization facilitate this?

Enter the 4.5-day workweek. By adding 2 hours of learning time a week you can achieve just that. These 2 hours should be solely for personalized learning based on the individual’s learning and development plan. What I suggest is to additionally account for 2 more hours of learning a week – cross-departmental (learning organization) and industry learning. I look closer into these later in this section.

There two major ways to go about becoming a learning organization with a shorter workweek:

  1. Dedicated half-day for learning (and 4 full-time working days);
  2. 2 X 30 mins of learning a day over 4 working days (plus 1 working half-day).

In either case, it all comes up to 36 working hours a week. You may think that, in a way, this negates the whole idea of 4-day workweek, since given the 8-hours a day work, one still needs to work on day five. But there are merits to this – and here’s why. 

While you may transition to a 4-day workweek with 3 days off, your customers and vendors may not necessarily do so. A lot of your employees will still be getting emails (or calls) on Friday that they will feel uncomfortable denying, even when it’s officially their non-working day. Instead of them ending up working on Fridays feeling like the whole 4-day workweek is a futile effort, you can help them feel satisfaction from additional learning embedded in this time. 

Here are some ideas on how to approach transitioning to a learning organization with 4.5-day workweek:

Help employees to create their learning plans

Each profession will need a different skillset to stay relevant in their current roles. Some may include specific digital or tech skills, while others, more sustainability-oriented, aka green skills. Here is where cooperation between learning providers, governments, and corporations is essential in assisting the employees to identify the most relevant skills. There are already plenty of reports on upskilling requirements by governments, learning providers and global consulting agencies. Work with your HR departments to identify which skills are applicable to positions in your industry and how your employees could approach acquiring these.

Dedicate a learning hub

Having a central knowledge repository now is easier than ever before. With minimal-to-no-investment you can leverage cloud storage, using Microsoft One Drive, Google Business Suite or other places to create a corporate-wide wikis, where best practices, knowledge articles, video recordings or webinars are shared across departments. This is another step towards breaking corporate silos when creating a learning organization.  

Differentiate learning 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, 2 learning hours a week should not be a shared learning, but dedicated to a personal learning plan, crafted for each individual. I also mentioned 2 more learning hours a week, these for an organizational learning. How could you structure this? Here is a couple of ideas:

  1. Cross-departmental learning. Mentioned earlier organizational learning hub could serve just this purpose. Additionally, you could explore “lunch and learn” options, shadowing sessions and hands-on workshops by different departments. 
  2. Industry learning. Staying up-to-date with the most recent news in the industry your company operates should be greatly encouraged and facilitated for all employees, not only business intelligence teams. Empower your employees with access to credible sources of industry news and encourage company-wide internal discussion about it. This could not only help you become a truly learning organization, but also stay ahead of the curve and response to unexpected threats with greater resilience
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Natasha Syed
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