If you’re an employee, you’re immediately interested. If you’re an employer, you’re doubtful — yet you keep hearing about this new strategy that might make a significant difference in your company’s ability to survive and thrive.
It’s the four-day workweek, though not the compressed 4/10s that oil patch and similar companies used. Employers adopting this four-day workweek ask each employee to work 8.5 hours four days a week, providing them full salaries for 34 rather than 40 hours weekly. Forty U.S. and Canadian employers are trying out this strategy in a pilot program run by 4 Day Week Global.
The concept asks employees to maintain 100% productivity for 100% of their pay while working only 80% of the time. It requires employees to work more efficiently, leveraging their time.
In one company that launched the four-day workweek in 2018, the law firm Perpetual Guardian, employees opted to leave their cell phones in lockers and to shorten meetings. According to their CEO Andrew Barnes, his employees spent 35% less time on nonwork activities and websites because working fewer hours made them better able to manage their personal responsibilities on their own time.
Proponents of the four-day work cite many benefits:
After announcing a four-day workweek, Atom Bank received a 500% increase in job applicants.
Microsoft Japan reported that productivity increased by 40% when it moved to a four-day workweek in 2019. The CEO of the talent assessment company Wonderlic reported “increased productivity, engagement and bottom-line results” after they launched four-day workweeks.
When the Henley Business School polled 500 business leaders about their four-day workweek, 51% reported cost savings resulting from lowered facilities and utilities costs and improved productivity. Microsoft Japan reported it saved more than 20% in electricity costs when it moved to a four-day workweek.
According to the Henley Business School survey, 62% of the 500 business leaders reported their employees using fewer sick days because they could make doctors and other appointments on their regular day off.
A 2020 Gallup poll of 10,000 employees found the lowest level of job burnout among employees who worked a four-day workweek. In a survey of 2,000 employees and 500 leaders in the U.S., 78% of employers said their employees were less stressed at work and 70% reported that the shorter workweek improved their overall quality of life.
The Reykjavik City Council in Iceland ran four-day workweek trials for years. They reported that paying employees the same amount for shorter hours increased their employees’ sense of well-being and reduced their stress, adding that productivity remained the same or increased.
A four-day workweek that allows your employees improved work/life balance both allows them to return to work rested and incentivizes them to stay with your organization.
The shift it requires
If you’re an employer who wants to try this out, you’ll need to make changes in how you run your business to allow your 34-hour employees to produce the results it once took them 40 hours to create. As one example, you’ll want to shorten or eliminate meetings. You’ll also need to use productivity-focused strategies and focus on your employees’ output rather than the number of hours they work.
Disadvantages also exist.
Employers may face scheduling challenges and be unable to provide customers and clients with adequate coverage and accessibility.
If employees don’t leverage their time and work with commitment, productivity and output will reduce, as each employee will work six fewer working hours per week.
Employers will need to handle overtime costs for their extra half hour each day.
Convincing employers to try it out
If you’re an employee, you may hope to convince your employer to try out four-day workweeks. If so, don’t base your proposal on your desire to work fewer days. Instead, present it as a viable solution to recruitment burnout and retention challenges. Identify what activities can be eliminated, how interruptions can be reduced, what can be automated, and the activities that can be made more efficient.
Finally, the four-day workweek may be an unintended consequence of the pandemic. Prior to the “work from home” necessitated by COVID-19, most employees simply understood that holding a job required heading to the workplace five days a week. That’s changed. Employers who want a competitive advantage need to explore the four-day workweek and other strategies that address how employee behavior and commitment have changed.