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Why a four-day week is not an answer to employee engagement

Authors: Olga Potaptseva - European Customer Consultancy, Founding Director

The article was written for


With 'quiet quitting' threatening to undermine efforts to improve customer service and CX, organizations are desperately seeking ways to drive up employee engagement. But four-day weeks aren't the solution.

People are re-evaluating the structure and nature of work more than ever before and applying century old models of time for money exchange in a hope to drive employee engagement is just not fitting with the new reality.

A more in-depth understanding of workforce needs and prompt relevant action is needed to retain talent.

Out-of-corporate dream

European Customer Consultancy's recent poll of over 2,000 LinkedIn members shows that only 4% of professionals see their 10-year career objective as working for a large corporation. The rest are split equally between aspiring investors, future business owners or the lucky pursuers of an interest/talent-driven career. On top of that a mind-blowing 18% are already leaving an international lifestyle, with appropriate careers to match.

This is exciting news for those of us who have been working towards a more sustainable and fulfilling life outside the traditional workforce. It shows that more and more people are interested in pursuing their passions and living a life that is meaningful to them. With the rise of the gig economy and the ever-increasing popularity of entrepreneurship, it is clear that the traditional model of working for a single company until retirement is no longer the only option. People are now realizing that they can create their own opportunities and build their own businesses. This shift in thinking is sure to have a profound impact on the way we live in the years to come.

Passion and entrepreneurship four days per week, no more and no less

What the above stats and trends mean is that employees want to contribute the diverse talents in a meaningful and exciting way that fits into their lifestyle. The concept of work-life balance is no longer a concept, as people also live when they work. Big revelation, I know!

There's been a lot of talk lately about the four-day work week. Proponents say it's a great way to increase engagement and loyalty among employees. Sure, it's a nice perk. Who wouldn't want an extra day off each week? But at the end of the day, it's just another variation of the time-for-money exchange. And that's not a long-term answer to the fulfilment the employees seek and their resulting loyalty.

The world is changing. Rapidly. In fact, it has already changed by the time I finished typing this sentence. And our employment models need to evolve with it.

New employee needs require new employment models

Today, employees are looking for a value-for-money exchange. They want to feel like their time is being well spent, they are achieving personal objectives and delivering value. In return they expect not just a pay cheque, the work experience fitting with their needs is becoming key.

Four major workforce trends in 2022-2023:

1. A 'portfolio career' insures against unexpected events and keeps one’s skillset diverse

Two-thirds of workers are either taking on multiple jobs or are planning to do so, research by the Department of Education (DfE) has found, with the number of people having ‘portfolio’ careers growing during lockdown. The study of 2,000 adults in England found that 63% either already have multiple roles as part of a portfolio career, or plan to do so in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend, with 37% more people now pursuing multiple careers than before the outbreak.

There are many reasons why this trend is growing in popularity. Having multiple careers allows them to focus on different aspects of their life at different times and explore their interests and talents. Additionally, pursuing multiple careers can provide greater financial stability, as it gives workers a wider range of skills to fall back on if one industry experiences a downturn.

2. Non-geographical living feeds the passion to explore long before a comfortable retirement

Our LinkedIn survey on living and working from abroad discovered 18% of professionals are already living abroad and another 49% said they would feel excited and comfortable living alone in a foreign country.

We are not alone spotting this trend - according to the Deloitte survey of 1,000 white-collar professionals, 94% said they would benefit from work flexibility. One in three said it would increase their job satisfaction and morale, and almost 30% said it would increase their overall productivity or efficiency at work.

This is a clear indication that people are looking for more flexible work arrangements that will allow them to live and work in different countries as opposed to being confined to one location or office space.

3. Control over one's destiny creates entrepreneurs in the workplace, or outside of it

The global pandemic has resulted in a boom of solopreneurs. According to the Census Bureau, more than 4.4 million new businesses were created in the US during 2020 — the highest total on record. For reference, that’s a 24.3% increase from 2019 and 51% higher than the 2010-19 average.

Half a million new businesses were started in January 2021 alone. Partially this is to generate additional income, but looking into a deeper motivation one can’t help but detect a desire to ‘be my own boss’ and ‘create my own path’. Too many workplaces are restrictive of the entrepreneurship, creativity and decision-making power that is attainable in abundance in the world of small business owners.

3. Motivation shift from money to education & contribution

Human connections and making a difference are becoming more important to people. With that comes the shift from monetary rewards to learning, making a meaningful contribution, and a sense of being in control. Just like in customer loyalty, price is a hygiene factor and quite seldom a driver of loyalty in itself.

We are entering an era of fulfilment, individual growth and taking control over one’s destiny whilst being responsible for yourself and others. Wouldn’t that be how you’d describe an adult? An adult employee who’s grown out of a parent-child relationship with their employer, dare I say.

These undeniable trends are going to determine which companies are winning in attracting and retaining talent in the next decade.

4. Future of people management

At the pace the working environment and the workforce expectations are changing, what are the employees you are going to need it future? How many of them? For how long would you want to retain each of the talent groups? Let’s not forget that the needs of successful business are also evolving at speed. You may want to think about these and more questions as you plan your employee strategy for the next five years:

  • With metaverse becoming a business reality, who and how will be building your brand’s prominence and operations there?

  • Can you keep up with the new technology and the new types of customers? Are you ready to embrace what it takes to be a diversity friendly employer?

  • Are your leaders prepared to establish and maintain a fairer balance in decision-making? The future holds more collaboration, satisfaction and less income and power inequality between job roles.

To be successful, businesses need to provide a much more personalised employee experience. This amongst other things means catering for cultural, mental, gender, ethnic and other diversity factors in all aspects of the company. Gone are the days when one-size-fits-all when it comes to engagement and retention strategies - each employee and each business will have unique needs that must be fulfilled in an adaptable, agile and flexible manner.

Evolving models for the future of EX

At ECC we partner with amazing future-thinkers Unbossers who drive change in organisations and believe people-first is a precondition for performance and growth. We agree! In this era of change, we must free ourselves to explore, experiment, and break down the barriers of bureaucracy that has run amok.

These are the three winning approaches of future organisations:

  1. Human connection over rigid boundaries: People connect around a common purpose and the impact they want to make rather than rigid boundaries of the traditional employer-employee dynamic.

  2. The customer is the best manager: Organisations close the gap between what customers expect and what they get. Priority-setting and performance are driven by direct customer feedback. Every employee understands how their role contributes to the creation of value for their respective customer.

  3. Everyone is a CEO: Contractors and self-starters have the freedom to choose their schedule, location, tools, and bosses, and they are motivated by finding solutions. They pick their own gigs and work in agile teams that form quickly and stay together.


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