There are many benefits to having a four-day workweek, including higher employee productivity, decreased turnover, increased employee happiness, better work-life balance, and more. On the other hand, a few negative aspects are also associated with it.
In this article, we will discuss some pros and cons of switching your company to a four-day workweek backed up by real results from companies who have tested it out and explain what it means for your business.
What is a 4-day workweek?
Unlike the traditional two-day weekend, a four-day work week is a shorter version of the traditional work week, during which workers work four days rather than five, and have a three-day weekend rather than two.
Four-day work weeks reduce both the number of hours employees work and the number of days they work. Instead of 40 hours per week, workers work 32 hours in a four-day workweek. Despite working fewer hours, benefits and pay do not change.
While the concept of a four-day workweek is novel, the reduction in working hours is not new. In 1956, Vice President Richard Nixon floated it as part of an “unbelievably prosperous” future under Republican leadership. Considering that manufacturing and labor in the 1800s were routinely working 100 hours over six to seven days a week, his proposal was revolutionary at the time. It wasn't until Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1940 that the 40-hour week became law. (Basiouny, 2022)
After nearly a century, many advocates are now arguing that 40 hours a week is an unacceptable amount of work that leads to no additional productivity and undermines work-life balance. Even though this argument has come and gone over the decades, it has resurfaced thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted the Great Resignation, a tight labor market, and what appears to be an inflection point for millions of workers across the globe.
The world’s biggest pilot program to test the four-day workweek was launched back in July to run for six months. Taking place in partnership with Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Boston College, the program is run by the not-for-profit organization 4 Day Week Global, Autonomy, a think tank, and the 4 Day Week UK Campaign. (Small, 2022)
Currently, 40 companies in the U.S. and Canada are participating in the pilot program, with another 60 signing up for the second phase this month.
While not restricted, the most common type of four-day workweeks can be viewed as compressed workweeks or as shortened workweeks.
With a compressed workweek approach, an eight-hour day is compressed into four 10-hour days rather than a five-day working week. There is no change in the type of work the employees do, but they now have a slightly longer workday in which they do so.
Whereas in the shortened workweek approach, employees take a paid day off during the week and work eight-hour shifts the rest of the days as usual. Usually, there’s an option to either take Wednesday or Friday off. The idea is simple – earn 100% of your pay, work 80% of your usual week and promise to maintain 100% productivity. This is also referred to as the 100:80:100 model. (Kollewe, 2022)
Whatever the approach may be, the goal is to reduce employee burnout, increase productivity, and achieve new levels of employee satisfaction. So far, the results from the pilot program look promising. The data suggests boosted employee well-being and accounts of employees expressing how a four-day workweek made them more productive and energized. (Gross, 2022)
The pros of a four-day workweek
Increases employee productivity, satisfaction, and business efficiency
It's surprising how much time we waste at work, but most of it comes from inefficiencies and poor time management.
Take for example the survey conducted by The Workforce Institute at Kronos where 45% of the employees believe they would be able to complete their job tasks in 5 hours or less per day. What happens to the other 3 hours? Well, 90% of the respondents to the same survey agreed that those remaining hours are spent on tasks that are not related to their core duties. Some of the most common barriers to being more productive at work included attending meetings they shouldn’t have been a part of, responding to endless chains of emails, being stuck up in administrative tasks, and finding solutions to problems they did not create themselves to name a few. (Eadicicco, 2019)
Keeping this in mind, it makes sense how businesses can increase employee productivity while reducing work hours. As the saying goes – work smarter, not harder.
Henley's ‘Four Better or Four Worse?’ white paper examining this growing business trend found that nearly two-thirds of UK companies that already use four-day weeks have been able to increase productivity (Walker & Fontinha, 2019):
78% said employees were happier
70% said the staff was less stressed
62% reported a reduction in sick leaves
64% said employees were more productive
51% said they were able to reduce company cost
It’s not the companies in the UK alone that are bearing fruits of the experimental four-day work week:
Back in 2018, New Zealand-based Perpetual Garden saw a 40% increase in employee engagement. This was one of the first instances of a four-day workweek experiment that both surprised the leadership and called for a rethinking across the industry to how we approach workweek hours. The company continues to promote this trend to date (Peters, 2019).
The experiment conducted by Microsoft Japan found that when they worked four days a week, their productivity increased by 40 percent (Bateman, 2022). In addition to that, other benefits include:
Electricity costs fell by 23%
The company printed 60% fewer pages
Reduction in meeting time
Employees saved commute costs
Bolt, an Estonian mobility company, liked the experiment so much that they have announced plans to keep it permanently (Breslow, 2022). In response to their three-month trial:
94% of employees said they wanted the program to continue
86% of employees said they were more efficient than before
50% of employees said it improved their work-life balance
87% of managers reported no loss in their team’s productivity/service levels
Wanderlust Group, a U.S.-based outdoor technology company, another one to keep the change permanent, reported a significant increase in sales and revenue following the switch to a four-day workweek (The Wanderlust Group, 2021). The company claims they were able to achieve the following with a four-day workweek:
Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) — 99% growth YoY
Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) (YTD) — 90% growth YoY
Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) (TTM) — 60% growth YoY
Nights booked through their marketplace (YTD) — 120% growth YoY
NPS: 75 on > 60k responses
There is no doubt that a combination of satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency gains is a great way to increase the employers’ brand, which is useful for recruiters who are looking to hire and retain top talent.
The four-day workweek can help in attracting and retaining talent
In the aftermath of the Great Resignation, the balance of power shifted from employers to employees because of a change in mood and tight labor markets. As a result, businesses have been exploring new forms of benefits such as remote and flexible working, Earned Wage Access, along with reducing work hours, such as a 4-day workweek in a bid to attract and retain workers.
Considering the tight labor market and companies already at war to secure the best talent, shifting to a four-day workweek might just give the edge to the companies that cannot compete in terms of paying the top dollar. John Leland, Chief Strategy Officer for Kickstart, said:
“We’re hiring against companies like Facebook and Google and Spotify that have enormous quantities of money. We can’t compete on just pure dollars, but we can compete on things like being fully remote and having a four-day work week.” (Stephens, 2022)
Having a four-day workweek could attract highly skilled and experienced workers. Particularly those in their later careers who are more attracted to a quality of life than an 80-hour workweek and perhaps don't expect to earn a lot of money to match their lifestyles.
The perks of a four-day workweek in terms of retention are not just in theory. Take, for example, the results from a survey conducted by Qualtrics that included 1,021 working Americans (Qualtrics, 2022):
92% of employees are in support of their employer implementing a four-day workweek
81% of workers say that they would be more loyal to their employer if they worked four days a week
That said, it’s not like we are seeing a global change as of now. Still, most companies continue to follow the traditional weekly hours. While the benefits of a four-day workweek are sound and steady, the evidence of rising business costs, lacking customer service experience, and increased burnout and stress are a few of the causes of concern to many. It’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all.
The cons of a four-day workweek
Here are a few downsides to switching to a four-day workweek that you should keep in mind.
Not suitable for all industries
While working four days a week may sound like a dream come true for most, doing so is not feasible for some services. Those who must be present seven days a week might find it very challenging to reduce the day. Logistics, public transport, and medical emergencies are some of the many examples of such services.
Increased business cost
Let’s assume that the seven-day-a-week companies can shorten employee hours by allowing them to take a day off. Since they are not closed either day of the week, and it’s business as usual, companies will need to hire more staff to cover the hours. That will ultimately mean a rising business cost to implement the new structure and long hours of HR processes. Healthcare, for example, requires long shifts. For companies that fall short in these areas, overtime may be required, or staff may have to be drafted in. Similarly, the complete closure of business on a working day can lead to frustrated customers, damaging the company's revenues.
Might increase stress and burnout
Employees are used to managing their tasks across five working days. A sudden shift to a four-day workweek might leave many mismanaging their time. With fewer hours to finish the same work, it might be stressful for those who require a longer time to complete their tasks. To add to this, it may mean employees are working overtime to finish tasks without any additional benefits. All these factors may lead to job fatigue and burnout affecting the overall health of the employees.
Can drive more inequality
If it becomes the norm, it may increase the existing inequality between skilled and unskilled workers. The difference is the number of hours worked and the reward after that. For high-tech developers, they will be able to enjoy the same pay as before with reduced hours, but for someone who is a factory worker on hourly pay, it could lead to a loss of income due to fewer work hours.
Managing teams could be difficult
It can be challenging to manage multiple teams on a four-day workweek, especially if the business operates 24/7. Having multiple days off can make it difficult to schedule meetings and manage projects if these days are scattered. Additionally, employees may feel compelled to tune in on their days off so they do not miss any important information.
Is a four-day workweek the future of work?
Workers deserve more flexibility, a better work-life balance, and more choices in determining when, where, and how to do their jobs. Over the last few years, employers all over have been experimenting with more diverse and flexible work models.
The results of the four-day workweek pilot program and subsequent phases are likely to run and be analyzed and debated for many years to come. However, what's already clear is that employers need to listen to employees and adapt to their wants. The definition of work is evolving.
What this means for your business might vary, but companies are already implementing the four-day workweek and seeing growth in employee productivity, satisfaction, and engagement. Additionally, it is a great attractor of potential hires and a safeguard of existing employees.
It’s also important to note that we are still in the early stages of experimenting with this new shift. And like for advice for all new things: proceed with caution. The four-day workweek does have potential disadvantages that may apply to your service or industry.
However, despite the potential risks, the evident rewards cannot be ignored. It’s a matter of carefully evaluating your company’s needs, employee demands, and customer sentiments to evolve into a workforce that is more productive and happier than before.