The Great Resignation is one of the hottest topics in traditional and social media in the United States today, and for good reason. With an unprecedented number of individuals leaving the labor force and an increasingly dire need to attract and retain great workers, the nation is desperate to understand how we got here, what it means, and what we should do about it.
This notion has contributed to a growing constellation of narratives: from The Great Negotiation to The Great Realization to The Great Reimagination. These diverse perspectives seem to be interconnected with one underlying phenomenon – the people crisis. Its profound complexity and a highly dynamic nature pose unique challenges to teams of teams around the globe. Multiple organizations are likely to experience it as an existential threat.
The talent crunch has rendered many conventional strategies and best practices partially effective at best. In the absence of clearly defined solutions, companies are more willing to take risks and innovate. Many insightful and instructive cases reveal emerging practices and novel approaches: United Airlines, Airbnb, and Multiverse to name a few. Arguably, the Four Day Workweek (4DWW) is one of the most curious and promising developments to date.
The 4DWW has been evolving for many years and have been boosted by the pandemic. A growing number of companies and countries (New Zealand, Iceland) are experimenting with the workweek design. These initiatives may look like breakthroughs to many and feel like a step taken too far to some. However, there are strong historic precedents which demonstrate that work design standards are not a given and constitute a strong opportunity for innovative solutions.
Take Ford Motor Company, a key example of “Creative Recombination” in action from our presentation on How Innovation Happens. From the rise of factory work up to the early 1900s, factory workers across industries were considered “lower class” and expected to work grueling 10–12-hour days, 7 days a week for little pay. Henry Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Company, challenged this standard in 1914 by introducing a six-day / 48-hour workweek for male workers and continued this progress in 1926 by rolling out a five-day / 40-hour workweek for all employees, coupled with a pay raise.
Henry Ford made a counterintuitive move twice, that seemed sure to cripple production and erode his own profits. Ford’s true motives and sources of inspiration are a subject of debate nowadays. What is more certain is that his decision not only improved the well-being of his workers, but also expanded the Ford customer base. Well-compensated employees with excess leisure time were motivated to work hard and were loyal to the company. They also possessed the income to make luxury purchases and had the newfound time to enjoy the fruits of that labor – often in the form of a shiny new automobile purchase.
The effects of Ford’s policies have echoed across the globe today. Ford’s new category of earners contributed to the rise of the American middle class, and the five-day, 40-hour workweek is standard in many parts of the world. With this historical context in mind, it begs the question – can we continue this progress today with similar or better results?
Also, if you believe that the Ford precedent reveals insights that shed more light on the 4DWW as a strategy to mitigate the talent crisis with innovation, consider one final question. How far across areas of human endeavor and epochs should we travel collecting strands of publicly available but disparate information that can be put together to create breakthrough people solutions?