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Four-day week: Don’t ignore deskless workers’ employee experience

More than 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies started working a four-day week from 6th June, with no loss of pay in the world’s biggest trial of the new working pattern. However, this trial feels very biased towards white-collar workers, with the process of offering flexible working patterns to shift workers – particularly those in industries such as healthcare, retail, manufacturing, etc. – taking considerably more effort to achieve. In this piece Steve Tonks, SVP EMEA at WorkForce Software highlights how companies can improve the employee experience for shift workers specifically, through intelligent workforce scheduling, self-service shift swapping capabilities, and automation of time off requests.

In June 2022, 70 UK companies kicked off a four-day working week as part of the world’s largest trial of this new working pattern, with no loss of pay for employees. This experiment seeks to address a myriad of workplace issues such as stress and burnout, job and life satisfaction, health, sleep, energy use and travel.

The trial comes at a time when more than half of UK businesses are facing a significant talent shortage, which is set to cost the economy £120 billion by 2030. In this climate, employers are working harder than ever to offer competitive employee experiences that attract new talent and retain current workers by focusing on employee wellbeing and work-life balance and ever-more progressive work practices. The four-day working week is another example of an employee engagement strategy that is biased towards corporate workers, who perform desk roles either in the office, remotely or in hybrid working styles.

The UK’s deskless workers – including those working in critical industries such as the public sector, retail and manufacturing – are often left out of such discussions. Strikingly, these are the very industries suffering the most severe talent crises; there are more than 500k vacancies in the food supply chain and 97k in manufacturing. Additionally, retail and hospitality job vacancies have hit record highs in recent months.

Several factors play into this talent shortage, however, to help address it, employers must ensure that deskless roles offer the same flexibility as corporate roles. While more flexible working patterns may be easier to implement in some industries, it is ultimately worth the effort as part of a wider employee engagement strategy. So, how can UK employers offer the same flexibility to deskless workers?

The business case for flexibility
Specifically, deskless shift workers want control of their schedules, a balance of flexibility with consistency, and user-friendly communication tools to help them be successful. Employee experience strategies that address these needs will be vital to ensure employee loyalty and retention amid today’s talent shortage – even more so in sectors such as manufacturing and healthcare that depend upon skilled and experienced workers.

By providing employees with greater power over their working schedules, employers will demonstrate that deskless workers are valued and supported to balance their personal needs with their working lives. However, we cannot deny that managing individual employee needs within a large, predominantly shift-based workforce is a significant challenge.

This is where workforce management technologies can enable companies to offer more flexibility more easily, like a flexible work week, to deskless workers – from forecasting labour demands with machine learning, to identify the peak times that need to be staffed and quieter periods where greater flexibility can be supported, mitigating risks with predictive and proactive alerts, to providing flexible and configurable workflows for employee requests and approvals. But what does this look like in practice?

Predictive scheduling for when life happens
Predictive scheduling, also known as secure or fair scheduling, has been made a legal requirement in many international jurisdictions. Beyond this, research shows that organisations with predictive scheduling capabilities are nearly 7x more productive.

Advanced, predictive scheduling enables more flexible working arrangements. Everyone has personal obligations that might impact their availability. Such arrangements for deskless workers can include compressed work weeks, where people work 40 hours over four days instead of five. Alternatively, this could adjust start or end times (or which days to work) based on personal needs and circumstances.

Technology can enable employers to offer this level of flexibility and provide shift workers with more control over their individual schedules, without sacrificing organisational needs. From accessible, easily modifiable calendars or standardised, streamlined practices for shift swapping and submitting time-off requests, workforce management systems enable employers to ensure enhanced experiences that parallel the change in working practices enjoyed elsewhere.

Intelligent modern workforce management
Poor work-life balance is often cited as a significant cause of stress-related absence, which according to the CIPD, nearly four-fifths (79%) of employees reported within their organisation over the last year. Yet, overuse of overtime is common practice in many shift-based roles and is a driving factor in workplace absence. For employers, this overtime adds complexity and irregularity that impacts broader processes such as payroll.

Fortunately, modern time and attendance management systems can easily analyse data to determine how often an employee has worked consecutive or unplanned overtime. Employers can then use the result as a strong proxy for potential overwork and vulnerability to burnout and set more effective overtime thresholds.

Similarly, such technologies provide intelligent management capabilities to predict fatigue among staff more accurately, with employers able to monitor hours worked, tasks performed and breaks taken. Combined with data relating to scheduling and holidays, these systems can flag employees who may be at risk of fatigue or burnout and ensure support is provided.

Looking ahead, the four-day working week signals the continual evolution of working patterns in our post-pandemic world. Core industries powered by deskless workers must be part of this new paradigm, where flexibility, regard for wellbeing and innovative technology come together to deliver progressive, future-forward benefits across the board.

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