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Should Employers Offer Shorter Work Days Due to COVID-19?

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on June 11, 2020 at 1:32 PM

Remember the days when the bustling office was simply a sign of an average Tuesday? It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

These days, a bustling office is more likely to cause anxiety, and leaving home for an extended period of time means you’re more likely to be exposed to the one health hazard on everyone’s minds: coronavirus.

The virus has changed many of the most basic ways we engage with the world – including the workplace. And now, as employers struggle to adapt to life under pandemic conditions, many employers who need in-person staff are trying to find creative ways to keep their employees safe while still remaining open for business.

One solution touted by New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, is a more flexible approach to the standard workweek. Some are suggesting shortening the workweek altogether, while others are considering shortening workdays.

Here’s a look at what those options might mean for your employees.

The Risk of a Full-Staff, Full-Day Office

Regardless of the option you take, the risk of a full-staff, full-day workday is high.

Offices are inherently riskier environments for coronavirus because they are tight, indoor spaces. Essentially, they serve as boxes, and those boxes have limited airflow. If a sick employee happens to come into the office (whether they know they’re sick or not), there’s a much higher chance that virus particles may linger in the air, since the air isn’t moving enough to clear them away.

The longer employees are exposed to that environment, the higher the risk that they may contract the virus from a sick colleague. Plus, higher concentrations of people means a higher risk of more people becoming infected, turning your office into a hotspot.

Safety (and Productivity) in Shorter Days

Many companies have pushed back against the idea of shorter days or shorter weeks because of productivity concerns. We’re starting to learn that those concerns may be unfounded.

Microsoft conducted a bold experiment in its Japan office: implementing a four-day workweek, making every Friday a paid holiday for their workers starting in August 2019. They found that productivity actually went up by 40% as employees were more motivated to finish any in-person tasks during fewer in-person office hours.

Other companies have adopted variations on the shorter workweek, limiting the workday to six hours instead of eight. This reflects a reality that many office workers know: when you’re in the office for eight hours, you don’t actually spend all of it working.

The key to doing this successfully during COVID-19 is to implement it strategically. Teams have different needs when they’re present in the office, and those have to be accounted for in your planning.

Navigating the Coronavirus Pandemic at Work

We know that the coronavirus pandemic is putting many companies and employees in a difficult position. You need to return to work, but you also need to keep everyone safe. And that means the work of EHS is more important than ever before.

Make sure to check out our blog for more tips on navigating the pandemic, and remember that in times like these, safety must be your first priority.

View our latest COVID-19 Resource Center >>

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Human Resources, Coronavirus

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