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Empower Your Employees with Time Instead of Chocolates: A Path to Workplace Satisfaction

CAREERSEmpower Your Employees with Time Instead of Chocolates: A Path to Workplace Satisfaction

Dear employers, instead of chocolates, gift vouchers, and Christmas calendars – give your employees a free Friday, shortened working hours, or a more convenient work schedule. This will surely pay off – argues Alicja Kotłowska from the Faculty of Social Sciences at SWPS University, based on her research on a nationwide sample of 1000 white-collar workers.

On today’s job market, employers are struggling with the phenomenon of silent resignation, a decrease in commitment, and high employee turnover. In the upcoming holiday season, it might be worth considering not only successfully ending the fiscal year or increased holiday sales but also what to change in employee management so they do not leave the company and are loyal and efficient.

Research shows that a satisfied, rested, and respected employee contributes to a company’s financial success. Therefore, it is worth thinking about employee well-being not only for ethical reasons but also because it pays off – recommends Alicja Kotłowska, a management expert from SWPS University.

Kids have already written letters to Santa Claus with a long list of gifts for the upcoming holidays. Employees also have such a wishlist, though they often do not have anyone to talk about their needs. Bureaucratic structures in companies in Poland do not leave room for open dialogue between employees and employers. Formal evaluation meetings are not always a forum for reporting workers’ wish lists, and the importance of labor unions has declined. Fortunately, researchers are investigating voices in the labor market, indicating that employees need appreciation, opportunities for development and new challenges, greater autonomy, meaningful work, and the ability to choose the work style. More and more workers want to change the balance between work and personal life. Young employees are even willing to lower their salary in exchange for shortened working hours.

Why do Poles want to shorten their working hours?

Eurostat data shows that in 2022, Polish women and men worked 40 hours per week while representatives of other nations worked several hours less. Our neighbors in Germany worked 35 hours a week, the Dutch 33 hours, and the French 36 hours. If shorter working hours are possible in Western countries, it is probably high time to start the discussion about modernizing working time in Poland.

In many countries, pilot programs to shorten working hours are already being tested. For example, in 2022, 2900 employees in 61 UK companies tested the efficiency and productivity of a 4-day working week under the supervision of researchers from the University of Cambridge and Boston College. The studies showed that productivity remained unchanged (46%) or slightly increased (34%). Employees’ satisfaction level has improved, and thanks to shortened working hours, the conflict between work and family obligations has decreased. After the pilot, most companies wanted to permanently shorten the weekly working hours. Similar projects are being introduced by companies in Sweden, Belgium, Australia, and Spain.

In Poland, so far, few companies have introduced such solutions because there is little knowledge and few studies analyzing the possibility of modernizing working time. Employers might think that it’s only about introducing free Fridays. However, there are more models for reducing working hours. The variety of solutions was analyzed by Alicja Kotłowska in a study financed by the Institute of Social Sciences at SWPS University.

Employers fear closed stores, factories, or service companies on Fridays. However, the working time can be managed in many ways – we can introduce a shift system, compressed model, shorter afternoons, or hybrid work. The point is to adjust the working hours more rationally to the individual needs of an employee. As a result, increased efficiency will provide a chance to shorten the working time– explains Alicja Kotłowska

Employee Preferences in Polish Organizations

A survey conducted in 2023 by Alicja Kotłowska showed that 53% of the examined white-collar workers preferred a 4 x 8 model, that is, working 4 days a week, 8 hours each day. Meanwhile, 19% prefer a compressed work week model (working 4 days a week, 10 hours each day). It’s worth noting that 13% of the employees do not want to shorten their working hours at all. Another 15% express a desire to work 5 days but only 6 hours a day.

Further analysis showed that employees from large companies feel a greater need to shorten working hours than those employed in small companies. The study also showed a greater preference for reducing working time among parents than among the childless. This can be explained by the conflict between work and family when parents need to stay at work until 5 p.m. and schools close much earlier. It turned out that most workers in the studied sample function in so-called “dual-career couples”, where both parents work, which makes it more difficult to fulfill caregiving duties.

Alicja Kotłowska points out that it is not employees’ laziness but social changes that explain the growing need to shorten working hours. Time for family life and pursuing hobbies are currently extremely important for employees. Therefore, perhaps for Christmas, it would be worth considering not a material gift but additional free time, which helps the employee to reduce burnout, improve well-being, and spend time with family.

Meanwhile, many companies plan extensive budgets for holiday gifts and parties for employees, while they often don’t pay for employees’ overtime. Organizations fund Gift of the Heart (charitable gift), but they often do not respect the family and childcare obligations of working parents. Management spends hefty amounts on Christmas buffets, but still require work and presence until 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve – says Alicja Kotłowska.

Perhaps this year something can be changed and the employee can be treated as an entity and not instrumentally? Alicja Kotłowska encourages employers to give their employees instead of another corporate mug and chocolates, what is truly valuable for them – additional time for personal life.

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