Imagine a three-day weekend! What would you do with it?
Probably spend more time with family or finally make that appointment with your doctor?
Or perhaps you’d finally get the time to compete in the triathlon.
Well, a new era in how we work is emerging.
Recently, “3,000 people across 70 companies in industries ranging from healthcare to local fish and chip shops,” have participated in the world’s biggest trial so far.
Dubbed the four day work week schedule, the idea is that workers make the same amount of money but only work 80 percent of the time.
In exchange for the fewer hours, employees will commit to maintaining or even increasing the productivity they would in a 40-hour workweek.
Keep reading to learn more about the 4-day workweek concept and whether you should implement it in your organization.
The Four-Day Workweek Explained
The 4-day workweek entails reducing the number of days in a work week.
Its implementation differs from one plan to another.
Some may require each day to be 10 hours long instead of the usual eight.
Others may compensate employees for five days’ worth of work, although they’re working only four days a week.
Some employers may only compensate their workforce for four days’ worth of work.
According to Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, founders of 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community, the 4-day week is based on the 100-80-100 model: 100 percent pay for 80 percent of the time in exchange for committing to maintaining 100 percent productivity.
According to Barnes, who switched his own New Zealand-based firm (Perpetual Guardian) to a four-day week schedule in 2018, workers who clocked in shorter hours a day reported being happier.
He also noted a significant improvement in productivity and morale.
“By focusing on productivity and output rather than time spent in a workplace, the four-day week allows for better work-life balance, improved employee satisfaction, retention and mental health,” Barnes said.
The 4-day week schedule isn’t new. In fact, before the Covid-19 pandemic, 67 percent of employees said they’d prefer a four-day workweek, regardless of whether it would require working longer hours.
According to the poll by YouGov America, only 21 percent opted for a five-day workweek, with eight-day hours.
If you can recall, stress and burnout have been on the rise as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose a public health and economic threat in most countries.
With the record inflation taking a huge bite out of workers’ paychecks, most are forced to look for better-paying jobs.
Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent Great Resignation, it has become harder for companies to attract and retain talent.
It’s now emerging that quality of life is the new frontier for competition.
That explains why most employers are now exploring new avenues to make their work environment more enticing to employees.
Companies Are Embracing the 4-Day Workweek Concept
Several studies have found that, at some point, productivity drops as the number of hours worked increases.
In other words, a 40-hour week could be wearing people out unnecessarily.
For this reason, companies have been adopting this style of work:
· A good case study is Microsoft’s Japan offices which reported a significant improvement in productivity
· In 2021, Spain launched a three-year 32-hour workweek experiment to help the country recover after the pandemic.
· The same year, Ireland launched a six-month pilot program to test the effectiveness of a four-day workweek.
· Other countries like Belgium, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, Germany, Iceland, and New Zealand have joined or are planning to start a trial phase for the four-day working week.
· In the Netherlands, the average weekly working hours are around 29 hours, the shortest work week in any industrialized country.
Examples of companies that have already implemented the 4-day week include:
- Buffer, a social media management software company who have been working four days a week since May 2020
- The Wanderlust Group, an outdoor tech company helping connect adventurers to destinations, adopted the 4-Day week in July 2020
- Wildbit, a software company with employees across 10 countries implemented working four days a week in 2017
- Awin, a global affiliate marketing network with over 1,000 workers across the globe, adopted the four-day week in January 2021.
- Healthwise, a nonprofit health education provider, switched to four-day workweeks in February 2022.
Should You Try the Four-Day Workweek?
According to research from Henley Business School, more than two-thirds of companies believe that a four-day week is the future of business success.
In the same study, 69 percent of workers said that working fewer days, and being able to choose their day off, was the most attractive flexible working option.
However, this working style may not be realistic in certain business models. Knowing its benefits and challenges can help you decide if it can work for your business.
The Pros of a 4-Day Workweek
This work arrangement can be highly beneficial to many organizations. Some of the benefits include:
There are plenty of studies – most recently from Microsoft – on the necessity and power of regular work breaks in boosting productivity.
Breaks give the brain time to reset and slow down the accumulation of stress.
While the research focused on the impact of breaks in meetings, the lesson can apply to other tasks.
During their initial trial, The Wanderlust Group reported having the most productive six months ever.
After a year of working four days a week, they reported a growth in their annual recurring revenue (ARR) by almost 100 percent year over year and an NPS above 75.
The company has since made the shorter workweek a company policy. Andrew Barnes’s own company Perpetual Guardian reported a 20 percent increase in employee productivity.
Wildbit had a similar experience, saying they have “seen the business grow more in the last three years than it has in its entire history. Not because we do a four-day workweek, but in spite of the four-day workweek.”
Promotes an Equal Workspace
In most countries, men hold higher paid positions compared to women. While the gender pay gap has been on the decline, it’s still commonplace in the workplace.
Research conducted by Sage in 2018 shows that 9 in 10 women work for a company that pays them less than men.
A 4-day workweek may help address this disparity by promoting an equal workplace, where employees, regardless of their gender, will earn equal pay working the same number of hours.
As a result, they will be able to spend more time with their families and have a better chance of juggling work and care commitments.
Happier, More Engaged Employees
It should come as no surprise that reduced work hours reduces stress levels, increases job satisfaction, and improves work-life balance.
It then follows that businesses offering a four-day working week report having happier teams who are more engaged.
With more time to spend with families and for personal and professional development, employee morale is bound to go up.
Since people can now spend valuable time pursuing their passion, they bring back energy and enthusiasm, which reflects positively on productivity.
Improves Employee Wellbeing
Offering workers an extra personal day to pursue personal projects and hobbies and spend more time with families provides a real chance of attaining a better work-life balance.
As we all know, working long hours contributes to work-related stress, which can affect a worker’s mental and physical health.
With improved well-being, employees will report fewer sick days, and reduced levels of stress, burnout, and absenteeism.
When workers report to work for just four days, businesses can save money from using fewer resources, like paper and custodial services.
In addition, they won’t have to use electricity and other utilities when workers aren’t in the building.
Attracting and Retaining Top Talent
On average, employers that advertise the four-day work option receive 13 percent more applications.
It goes without saying that work flexibility is one of the biggest perks candidates are considering before applying for a job.
The idea of having a 3-day weekend and only working four days a week is a real selling point for not only attracting top talent but also retaining them longer.
The overall happiness of employees increases loyalty which gives a firm a competitive edge in employee attraction and retention.
The way we work today has resulted in congestion and the lengthening of commutes, with billions of dollars, hours, fuel gallons, and pounds of carbon expended every year.
In 2007, the US state of Utah reduced the average workweek from five to four days, eliminating Friday entirely.
The results were astounding. Within the first 10 months, the state saved $1.8m in energy costs and a reduction of at least 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
The state of Utah estimated it could save 12,000 metric tons of CO2, which is equivalent to removing 2,300 cars off the roads for a year.
Reducing the time workers commute during their normal work days means removing millions of cars from the roads, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.
Efficient Workflows and Processes
The four-day work week forces people to be creative and find smarter and more efficient ways to work.
For one, it could mean keeping meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes, as in the case with Microsoft Japan, and improving communication and collaboration strategies to reduce time wastage.
It also means reducing distractions and focusing on deep work.
In addition, employers of companies offering the four-day working week report that workers are examining the existing ways of doing things and recommending innovative strategies to increase efficiency.
In other words, it pushes people to be really intentional about how they work.
The Challenges of a 4-Day Workweek
The number of organizations offering four-day work weeks has increased to 15 percent in 2019, up from 13 percent in 2017.
However, it comes with some challenges that you might want to consider. These include:
Reduced Social Interaction
While reducing the number of meetings and distractions to a minimum leads to better work efficiency, the aspect of human interactions is diminished.
That’s because coworkers will have fewer opportunities to interact.
In the same spirit, a four-day workweek can create less time and opportunities for team bonding.
Companies would need to rethink how they schedule team engagement activities or hangouts, which can be challenging.
Increased Pressure on Employees
With fewer working days, staff will have fewer days to complete projects, whether they are working reduced or the same number of hours per week. In turn, they end up feeling the pressure of getting things done in less time.
It Doesn’t Work for Every Business Model
Shifting from a five-day to a four-day work schedule can create problems for some companies.
In the hospitality industry, for example, such a work model may not be feasible.
A certain number of staff members must always be present to ensure smooth operation.
The same can be said of manufacturing, where supply chain shortages and backlogged orders make a four-day workweek almost impossible to implement.
It Could Hurt Customer Satisfaction
In our hyper-connected world, customers and clients may question a four-day workweek, considering they are paying the companies to be readily available.
That’s especially true for clients paying top dollar for services like technical support, public relations, and advertising.
It may prove challenging to explain your decision for this work model and assure clients and customers that the quality of service won’t suffer.
Some clients might even abandon your company due to such uncertainties.
What to Consider When Implementing a 4-Day Workweek
Most people don’t like change, and switching to a four-day working week is a big change. To make it successful, you’ll need to work out a few details.
- Agree on the day off. One of the first challenges you’ll encounter when adopting this new work strategy is which day of the week employees will take off. Will it be the same for everyone? When starting out, Buffer allowed workers to choose their day off. It soon became difficult to keep track of who was available and when. They eventually settled on Friday. The Wanderlust Group settled on Monday as the day off since Friday was the busiest for their business. For customer support teams, you could try rotating off days to ensure clients are covered, while still offering workers four-day workweeks.
- Maintain salaries. Most employees would be worried that working fewer days will result in pay cuts, and they may not take this too well. Many companies implementing this strategy have kept salaries the same based on output, not hours.
- Set an example. As the employer, selling an idea that you don’t practice to employees won’t be easy to get team buy-in. In order for a four-day working week to succeed, top management must act as a pioneer and champion for the course. When a CEO sets the tone for a company, employees will be more willing to embrace the idea. Therefore, ensure your top brass buys into the concept first before introducing it to the teams.
- Set clear guidelines. Since it’s a new concept, you must work towards preventing confusion. Therefore, you may want to update your employee handbook and onboarding policies. This will touch on things like flex days and shifts.
- Respect boundaries and flexibility. Company culture can only be effective if you respect and abide by the policies set forth. If, for example, you send work messages on non-work days, it shows you don’t respect your workers’ time off.
- Reduced hours shouldn’t increase work’s intensity. Otherwise, workers will feel the urgency and pressure of deadlines, which can lead to increased stress levels.
- Set realistic expectations. As with every change, it can’t be achieved overnight. It takes patience, practice, and proper planning. There will be structures and processes to establish. Therefore, set realistic expectations that set people up for success adopting a 4-day workweek.
- Measure progress. Most importantly, you need to understand if a four-day workweek model is the right fit for your business. The only sure way to do so is to measure metrics related to productivity, customer satisfaction, profits, growth, employee wellbeing, and so on. Start by identifying relevant goals and objectives, so you know what you’re gauging. The data you collect can help highlight the effectiveness of a 4-day workweek in your company.
Should You Adopt a Four-Day Workweek?
From what we’ve seen, a four-day work arrangement can be highly attractive to most organizations. In fact, it’s a huge perk for a majority of employees who value wellbeing and work-life balance more.
However, you need to understand the pros and cons of the 4-day workweek before implementing it. Additionally, you must consider how it will affect your employees, clients, and work processes.