What constitutes a work week often depends upon the individual, the industry, or the company. Some industries require a seven-day work week with a variety of shift patterns, while others may operate during fixed office hours five days a week, typically Monday to Friday. For the latter group of workers, there has been much debate about whether the default five-day work week is necessary, with some organizations exploring alternative options such as a four-day work week.
A four-day work week is one where instead of working Monday to Friday, employees may work Monday to Thursday, Tuesday to Friday, or any combination of days that allows employees to work four days out of the traditional five. Employees working a four-day work week often retain the same level of pay as a five-day week. Initially, it may seem that only employees benefit from this schedule, as employers pay the same wages for fewer hours. However, it could be beneficial in an organization in other ways.
Below are some pros and cons of a four-day week, along with examples of when it has been put into practice, and tips for how you might implement it in your own organization.
Is a Four-Day Work Week effective?
There are many pros associated with a four-day work week that make it mutually beneficial for employees and employers. Here are some of the main benefits of implementation:
Better work-life balance: A Deloitte marketplace survey on workplace flexibility found that 94% of the 1,000 US professionals asked said they would benefit from work flexibility. The main plus points reported were being less stressed, improved mental health, and better integration of work and personal life. Giving employees the flexibility of working fewer days a week allows them to better manage their work and personal lives. Having a day off in the work week allows employees to attend medical appointments, be at children’s school events, run errands or pursue hobbies without having to take time off work. This can ease feelings of stress and burnout, renew focus, and boost creativity and productivity.
Reduced turnover: The Great Resignation has seen unprecedented levels of turnover, with workers re-evaluating their priorities post-pandemic and seeking roles that fit their desired lifestyle. A Pew Research Center survey found that employees who quit during the Great Resignation and were subsequently employed elsewhere were more likely to say that their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement, and greater work-life balance and flexibility. With flexibility being a high priority for many workers, implementation of a four-day week may be the deciding factor as to whether some workers remain or leave.
Talent attraction: Recent studies have shown that younger generations value employers who support their well-being and allow flexibility in their work schedules. Having a four-day week can be a strong point of attraction for Millennial and Gen-Z workers, as well as for previously retired workers who are re-entering the workforce to boost their pension pots. It may also appeal to workers with children or caring responsibilities. The offer of flexibility gives a boost to your employer brand, making your organization a better prospect for talent than others. Companies like The Wanderlust Group and Atom Bank reported a sharp rise in job applications since implementing a four-day work week.
Increased productivity: Not all of our working hours are well spent. Time can be wasted on meetings that could have been emails, emails that could have been brief telephone calls, or dealing with IT issues or overly bureaucratic processes. Less working time forces streamlining, which results in work being carried out more efficiently in the time available. Organizations that tackle these issues and help employees to work smarter can benefit from increased productivity and efficiency.
Cost savings: Post-pandemic, many parts of the world have reported a cost-of-living crisis as the economy struggles to revert to pre-pandemic highs. As a result, people and businesses alike are facing financial challenges brought on by high fuel costs and rising energy bills. Reducing the work week could help companies reduce costs if the business is non-operational on a certain day of the week, as the associated operational costs for that day will be diminished. For employees, a day off from work can reduce travel costs, as well as additional food costs (such as those that arise from buying lunch or coffee).
What are the Cons of a Four-Day Work Week?
The cons of a four-day work week will differ depending on the organization and how easily its operating model lends itself to this flexibility. Although the pros do yield positive results for businesses, there are still negative connotations around a shorter work week. Understandably, apprehension can arise in people managers and business leaders who have operated under the five-day work week for most of their working lives, and they may be averse to such change or find it difficult to believe it could positively impact the business.
According to Qualtrics research, concerns amongst the workforce regarding the four-day work week include:
- The belief amongst 40% of managers and 48% of senior leaders that employees would slack off
- 46% of managers and 53% of senior leaders feeling that there would be a negative impact on sales and revenues
- 55% of employees stating that a four-day work week would frustrate customers due to the reduced availability
In the Deloitte workplace flexibility survey, nearly 30% of respondents feared potential consequences to professional development and felt that a possible lack of trust from management would prevent them from taking up flexible working options.
There is a legitimate concern that shortening the work week without the appropriate mechanisms in place would result in the expectation that the same amount of work should be carried out but in significantly less time. Lack of suitable support could result in elevated levels of stress and burnout. It is vital that employers foster a culture where employees can hand over work as necessary, without being perceived as lazy.
Costs are a legitimate concern for any business. While the four-day work week can have financial benefits, in some industries it simply might not be cost-effective. For instance, Healthcare organizations that require long shifts—and where care must be carried out seven days a week—would likely see increased labor and recruitment costs if they had to employ additional staff to cover the shortfall caused by existing staff working fewer days. However, the pros may offset any additional cost incurred—for example, improved wellbeing might reduce sickness absence costs and improve retention.
A four-day work week is not one size fits all. What the company may think is beneficial to all, may not be. Some employees may want to work more days, perhaps for social benefits or convenience. Some may want different days off from others and some may lose regular overtime pay they had become reliant upon. It is therefore crucial to gather input from employees on how a four-day work week might work best for them.
To be convinced of the pros of a four-day week, employers and employees both need to be sufficiently reassured of how it will work in practice.
Four-Day Work Week in Practice
With trials being rolled out worldwide and many employers making permanent changes to their working hours, below are three real-life examples of organizations that put the four-day work week into practice.
In January 2020, after starting with half-days off on Friday afternoons and a 36-hour work week, Boston-based US growth content company Nectafy made the decision to permanently move to a four-day work week, with Friday as a full non-working day.
Nectafy reduced their full-time working hours to 32 hours per week, with no salary change. They shifted their mindset to managing output rather than hours and ensured processes were fully documented to remove inefficiencies. Meeting times were reduced or cut altogether and overactiveness on Slack was discouraged.
Two years later, Nectafy’s Director of Operations reported that not a single employee had left the organization since the implementation of the four-day work week and that productivity has remained the same as it was when using a five-day work week.
Social Media management platform Buffer implemented a four-day work week with a trial in May 2020. Initially, for one month as a show of support during the pandemic, the trial was extended to six months, before becoming a permanent offering.
Buffer took a more flexible approach and rolled out a 32-hour work week while still offering full-time pay. Working a four-day week was not mandated, as Buffer employees could opt to work their 32 hours over more than four days, reducing the number of hours they worked per day instead.
73% of staff did adopt a four-day week work schedule and were also able to choose which day they took off per week.
Following the implementation, an internal survey found that 91% of workers were happier and more productive and that 84% felt they were able to complete their work in four days.
To facilitate the initial trial, Buffer reduced work events in the calendar—leaving significant quarterly events such as All Hands and Town Hall meetings where employees could meet with the executive team. Consequently, engagement scores suffered, with their internal survey reflecting that people missed having both virtual and in-person informal events. To combat this, Buffer says they are working on maintaining a balance between productivity and team building.
Believing that their employees could work just as effectively over four days as they were over five, software development company Atlassian sought to introduce a four–day work week to encourage a better work-life balance and greater wellbeing. Though this was initially met with concern from employees, who questioned how they would condense the work and if their jobs would be at risk, Atlassian proceeded with a trial over the summer of 2021 and collected qualitative and quantitative data throughout.
During the trial, Atlassian found that after having a three-day weekend, employees were more motivated on Monday mornings, deadlines were met, productivity was maintained, and there was a positive impact on wellbeing.
Although the trial was largely successful, Atlassian was not ready to make the change permanent, and instead opted to take the lessons learned and improve certain aspects of working life. For example, they implemented a monthly day off to recharge, meeting-free days to increase focus time, and occasional ‘days of wonder’ to explore new ideas.
How to Implement a Four-Day Work Week
When deciding to change your organization’s work week, you should consider what type of four-day work week would work best for your business. The most common options are:
Compressed work week: Full-time employees compress their working hours into fewer days. For example, a five-day week where employees work eight hours per day could become a four-day work week where employees work 10-hour days. Other options include a nine-day fortnight, also known as a 9/80 or 5-4/9 work schedule. In this working pattern, employees do not have to work days as long as 10 hours because the two-week period allows for hours to be more spaced out. Over a fortnight, an employee might work a combination of nine- and eight-hour days to make up their full-time hours in nine days, before having the tenth day off.
Shortened work week: This is arguably the most prevalent example of a four-day work week. It simply shortens the full-time work week, so five days become four, usually with no reduction in pay. The hours that will constitute a four-day work week will need to be agreed upon, i.e., whether a full-time week of 40 hours will now become 32 hours. This arrangement is also known as the 100:80:100 model, as employees give 100% in productivity, work 80% of the time, and receive 100% of their usual pay.
You can then decide whether everyone will have the same day off, or if the days will be staggered or optional.
You should also take the following steps when establishing your four-day work week.
- Consider any legal implications. Does local law contain any restrictions on hours worked, benefits eligibility, and time off? This may be a more complex task if your organization operates across different states or internationally. Start with reviewing federal and state laws in your most populated region. The Family and Medical Leave Act and Affordable Care Acts are good places to start. Consult with local employment law professionals to be aware of any other legal considerations of implementing a four-day work week in a given region.
- Take stock of the current climate. Assess your employees’ appetite for this change by conducting a survey centered around the prospect of a four-day week. It is important to know your employees’ thoughts, feelings, concerns, and motivations so you can incorporate their ideas where you can and help to alleviate their fears. You can also discuss this with any relevant employee groups and staff unions to ensure everyone is heard and represented.
- Prepare a business case. Be mindful that the concerns mentioned earlier in this article may still exist, and you may face resistance from some of the workforce, including managers and senior leaders. You will need to be equipped with a solid business case to counteract such apprehension. This should include an illustration of benefits, legal considerations, and a proposed project plan. The drive for implementing such a change should ideally come from above⏤even if the decision makers need to be convinced initially, having leadership on board will help you implement this successfully.
- Streamline working practices. Reduce or cancel non-essential meetings, but try to maintain a balance so as not to impact engagement. Ensure working practices are fully documented and easily accessible. Implement tools that facilitate asynchronous work, but set expectations around communication, making it clear that colleagues who are prioritizing deep work will not be responding to instant messaging straight away.
- Consider testing the water. Many organizations that implemented a permanent four-day week did so after a successful trial. You may want to try it within a particular group of the workforce before rolling it out more widely. Having evidence of its success in areas such as wellbeing and productivity can help to bring any internal doubters on board.
- Market it well. To ensure it doesn’t become a benefit that makes the company sound like a great employer but is underutilized in practice, senior leaders should model the new working pattern and pave the way for cultural change in leading by example. Employees should be informed at each stage of the proposition and beyond implementation to ensure that they understand what changes to expect, and how the schedule will operate in practice. HR should work closely with people managers to ensure they are equipped for facilitating the change within their teams.
- Measure the outcomes. Conduct internal surveys to measure the success of the four-day work week at various stages. Monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and keep track of productivity to ensure it is working effectively or to enable changes to be made where necessary.
More organizations are considering a move to a four-day work week, with hopes of benefits for both employees and employers. Under this schedule, employees can gain a better work-life balance and improved well-being. Employers then benefit from this, as happier workers bring their best selves to work, resulting in increased productivity and loyalty to the organization.
However, implementing a four-day work week is not without its challenges, and it will not be suitable for every organization. If you are considering whether it would work for your business, you may want to trial it first and measure the impact. You can then decide to either implement it, dismiss it, or perhaps work towards it by trialing half days off first.
If you decide not to implement a four-day work week outright, it might be worth considering other ways you can allow employees more flexibility to reap the same benefits a four-day work week provides. For example, you might want to implement ad-hoc office closure days, personal wellbeing days, or designated time in the working day away from business as usual.
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