The four-day work week is, once again, a trending topic as the U.K. sets off the world’s largest pilot of its kind, following in the footsteps of countries like Iceland, Belgium, and Scotland.
For six months, 3,300 workers across 70 companies will attempt to stay 100% productive while working fewer hours for the same salary.
The remote working boom, followed by the Great Resignation phenomenon, set forth a much-needed workplace shift in the post-pandemic world. Hence, the notion of an extended weekend drives organizations and countries to rethink the workplace structure even further.
By analyzing the latest data, case studies, and expert opinions, this article explores a novel company perk that can potentially lead the new workforce revolution and change the workplace as we know it.
What is a Four-Day Work Week?
“Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
In the wake of the first industrial revolution, early 19th century, this slogan was at the forefront of the movement to improve poor laboring conditions.
The person behind the campaign, labor activist and social reformer Robert Owen, introduced and advocated the concept of a shorter working week as early as 1817.
At the time, factories ran 24/7, pushing people to work up to 16 hours, six days per week. Even children as young as five were part of the workforce. Owen attempted to regulate working days, proposing reforms to shorten them to 40 hours per week and prevent employee abuse and excess workloads. However, some of his reforms and ideologies were ahead of their time, and many employers were against them.
Two centuries later, the nine-to-five is the go-to for most companies, as a new four-day work week proposal is gaining momentum.
Whether by compressing work schedules, fixing salaries, or shortening hours with the promise of maintaining the same productivity, defining the four-day concept depends on what works best for the company.
Regardless, the initiative strives to improve employees’ work-life balance by giving them more days off.
Although it might seem unattainable at first, numerous studies and trials worldwide show that this shift might not be as far-fetched as employers previously thought.
The Promise of a Four-Day Work Week
At its core, the four-day work week revolves around job efficiency and optimal economic growth.
Overworked employees tend to lose concentration, which affects their overall health and productivity.
Ignoring the issue costs businesses billions.
Being 100% present and productive during the workday is a myth, with several studies proving those long hours don’t necessarily represent better efficiency.
One research shows that productiveness can last less than three hours per day. Most respondents, or 79%, reported that they weren’t productive throughout the entire working day. Instead, they spent time checking social media, reading the news, talking with colleagues, and doing other non-work-related activities.
On average, workers performed productively for only two hours and 53 minutes.
Seeing how a 40-hour workweek is not optimal, the promise of a shorter workweek can be an excellent incentive for increasing employee loyalty and attracting new talent.
However, as attractive as it seems, the reduced work week might not work for everyone unless organizations adapt it to their employees’ needs.
Otherwise, a shorter work arrangement can be a counterproductive perk in the workplace. It can push workers to finish the same responsibilities much faster, adding pressure and stress instead of promising better job flexibility.
In fact, according to Raisa Yogiaman, a content manager at Zavvy, that might be the case, “Since the working days are cut down, it’s likely that employees feel more under pressure to deliver the same performance as the five-day week work culture. Because of this, they are more prone to feeling stress and burnout. Instead of being more productive, four-day week work may be less efficient for some people.”
Essentially, employers should explore their options before enforcing such a benefit and consider how to implement a four-day workweek for their employees.
The Four-Day Work Week as a Perk
Many studies and trials confirm that the shortened workweek seems to be a good company benefit that improves employee wellness, reduces stress, and increases job satisfaction.
A U.K. app-based bank, Atom Bank, introduced the shorter workweek as a company perk in 2021, only to immediately see a 500% increase in job applications. Its employees were satisfied with the program, and 86% responded that they were looking forward to going to work.
Another research indicates that the compressed working week is a sought-after benefit for most workers. It was the preferred option for 66% of respondents, coming in second place after flexible work schedules with 88%.
The pre-pandemic survey shows that 62% of companies offered flexibility, but only 17% responded positively to the compressed workweek as a perk.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are warming up to the idea. Some of the latest data shows that at least 65% of U.K. companies considered a four-day work week for all or some of their employees. We can see the same trends in the U.S. and Canada.
Benefits of a Four-Day Working Week
An extra day off is a big incentive for a four-day working week.
“I love the idea of a four-day working week and have tried it a number of times,” says book writing coach Joanne Martin.
Her experience with a shorter workweek was a positive one. Martin further comments: “In fact, I’d love to go back to a four-day week, so I have time to follow my passion projects in my spare day!”
According to Andre Oentoro, CEO and Founder of Breadnbeyond, the advantage of a four-day work week is that you have more time to enjoy your life outside work.
Oentoro explains: “When you have a four-day work week, you can take advantage of “long weekends” to get extra rest. That can lead to improved focus and productivity during the work week.”
Using one more day to focus on personal matters, spend time with friends and family, or take time to recharge is a significant benefit.
Matt Post, the co-founder of WCAG Pros, agrees with this, listing personal advantages: “With fewer days spent in a traditional 9-to-5 job, employees may be able to spend more time with friends and family, engage in hobbies, or do other things they enjoy.
Another possible advantage of a shorter work week is that it could help reduce employee stress levels. Since they have more time to relax and recharge, they’re less likely to feel overwhelmed during the workday.”
These benefits, including increased productivity, employee retention, and overall job satisfaction, are supported by data from many trials worldwide.
For example, after Microsoft Japan launched and completed a shorter workweek trial, the company noted a 40% productivity increase.
Other findings from their Work-Life Choice Challenge project showed a 25% decline in additional work leave, 23% lower electricity cost, and overall employee satisfaction with the program of 92%.
After experiencing the four-day week through the scope of an employee and now an employer, Ellen Bathgate, the owner of Rent Roll Starter, shares how it affected her productivity: “I currently work a four-day week, in my own business, after working five-day weeks for the last four years, and I worked four days a week in a previous business.
I still have the same workload, but I’m much more efficient on the four days, and I find that I’m actually ready to go back to work on a Monday when I’ve had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off work”.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company that tried the four-day working week, also measured an increase of 24 percentage points in work-life balance and a seven percent stress decrease.
The benefits are evident.
However, they don’t exclude the potential disadvantages, especially when companies enforce a program without considering how employees might react to these changes.
Cons of a Four-Day Working Week
The factual data showing the benefits of flexible work arrangements somewhat shadow the potential disadvantages. But there are two sides to everything.
Digital Marketing Manager of Explainerd, Natasha Rei, believes there are pros and cons to the shorter work schedule. Rei explains: “On the plus side, employees have more time to enjoy their personal lives and do things outside of work. That leads to improved morale and productivity when they’re actually at work.
And since employees are working fewer days, they may feel like they need to cram more hours into those days, leading to burnout.”
One of the main drawbacks is that this approach doesn’t work for everyone, for example, medical professionals and other high-demand jobs.
Additionally, the implementation itself is complex.
Businesses that can pull off a shorter work week would still have to up-skill, restructure teams, and adapt the workflow to this new way of working. Otherwise, their employees’ work-life balance can worsen or lead to potential customer dissatisfaction and low work quality.
Joanna Martin recalls the most significant disadvantage from personal experience: “I have worked four days in the past. What I found was that often my employer would say, can you just attend this meeting at 3 P.M. tomorrow for an hour? I actually found it interfered a lot with what I had planned for that day, and I wasn’t being paid to get into the work mindset.
Having said that, I love the concept, and in the end, I would avoid returning work calls on my day off and not log onto the work computer. That worked well and provided the perfect balance to energy.
I think, as an employee, you need to be realistic about the amount of work you can complete in four days and not end up working five days in four, which is what often happens when people work four days.”
According to Loran Marmes, owner of Medicare Solutions, fitting all work responsibilities within a shorter work-frame could result in stressed employees.
From an employer’s point of view, Marmes concludes: “Examining the impact on employee productivity, morale, and retention, I am not entirely convinced that a four-day work week is the best option for our company.
The potential benefits of a four-day week are clear – employees would have more time to spend with family and friends and get additional days off each week.
However, this arrangement has potential drawbacks, including lower productivity and increased stress levels”.
WCAG Pros co-founder Matt Post also agrees that a shorter working week can have some repercussions, adding: “Although four-day working weeks may be shorter, employees should be aware that they may receive less pay for working fewer days. Additionally, it can be difficult to maintain a work-life balance in a four-day week because there are only four days to get everything done”.
Four-Day Work Week & Employees
Working four days a week gives employees more control over their time, usually reducing work anxiety and improving mental health in the workplace.
Although there are obvious benefits to all workers, Millennials and Gen Zs are at the forefront of this transition. For younger employees, a shorter work week is essential when applying for a job.
James Parkinson, Head of Marketing Content at Personnel Checks, says that after successfully implementing the hybrid work model, the shift to a four-day working week is a compelling proposition with both pros and cons.
Parkinson explains what that would mean for the employees in the company: “Starting with hybrid working has been a helpful stepping stone and allowed us to try out some of the possible advantages and disadvantages of moving to a four-day work week.
Our staff sees the biggest positives to a four-day week to be reduced commuting time across the week and a better work-life balance. Being able to sort out life admin and tasks like the weekly supermarket shop on a weekday rather than a weekend is a big bonus. Not many negatives were raised by staff. However, there were differing views about which day of the week would be the best to be out of the office.”
Businesses should consider all employees before acting on a four-day work week proposal. Otherwise, the initiative can backfire and create an even more significant generational gap in the workplace.
So, instead of only attracting young talent with this company benefit, employers should create a company culture that includes all generations and gives them the option to choose their way of working.
Four-Day Work Week & Companies
Employers worldwide are becoming increasingly curious about the perks of a four-day work week schedule. However, the number of companies that do offer it remains relatively small.
According to James Parkinson from Personnel Checks, it’s because such work arrangements can potentially affect customers: “From the company’s point of view, while we see that there are potential benefits to work-life balance, which in turn could improve mental health, we also have to consider the impact on the business, especially on how a shorter work week might affect response rates to customers.
At the very minimum, for it to work, we would have to ensure there is coverage every day of the week rather than everyone having the same day off.”
However, things are slowly but steadily taking a different turn.
Thanks to the “4 Day Week Global initiative”, around 40 companies from Canada and the U.S. are undergoing a four-day work week research, followed by many other employers globally.
1) Companies that Tried the Four-Day Work Week
Microsoft Japan, Canon, Panasonic, Kickstarter, and Perpetual Guardian are some of the big names on the list of companies that have tried the reduced-hours work schedule or intend to.
Thanks to the “4 Day Week Global” non-profit community, more and more businesses are joining the initiative, and this upward trend will most likely continue in the future. And while most organizations are going for a trial period, usually following the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies established this years ago.
For example, Basecamp offered a four-day week perk as early as 2008. The software company has the so-called Summer Hours employee benefit, where the staff works four days a week for the summer season.
Other companies, like Buffer, never ended what was supposed to be only a trial period. Although initially, the plan was to try out a shorter working week for a month, the overwhelmingly positive results prompted the company to make this a full-time perk to improve their employee experience.
It’s been more than two years, and 91% of Buffer employees reported being happier and more productive.
2) Global Four-Day Work Week Success Examples
It’s not just individual organizations. Globally, several countries are already warming up to the idea of a four-day working week, with support from business leaders, trade unions, and politicians.
Iceland was among the first to launch a four-day workweek experiment, with 2,500 workers, or more than one percent of the country’s workforce.
Scotland soon followed, discovering that 80% of people support the idea and think it will positively affect their well-being.
The idea quickly spread throughout Europe, with Spain and Ireland launching a shortened work week trial, and globally in New Zealand, Japan, and the UAE.
The latest and now the largest four-day workweek trial started in the U.K. Once the testing phase is over, the results will show how realistic this idea is for its larger-scale implementation.
3) Four-Day Work Week Case Studies & Statistics
After a successful workweek experiment Perpetual Guardian, in collaboration with partners and The University of Auckland, published a white paper on their four-day workweek trial.
The paper explores the purpose and program design, its implementation, and data on the psychological, social, and economic impacts of flexible work arrangements (FWAs).
The key findings show that FWAs improve productivity, reduce organizational costs, decrease turnover, and increase customer satisfaction, among other things.
In fact, adding flexibility as a company perk can contribute US$10.04 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
Henley Business School report further confirms the financial benefit of working only four days per week, revealing that businesses have already seen significant financial savings, reaching billions of dollars.
Additionally, the latest report indicates an increase in companies interested in this perk, going from 50% in 2019 to 65% in 2021. Moreover, employers’ concerns about the drawbacks were also lower (65%) than in the pre-pandemic survey (82%).
The Impact of Working a Four-Day Week
Although the idea of a shorter workweek is far from receiving mass approval and implementation, it’s evident that the workplace is evolving.
Ebnu Sudarso, Co-Founder of Milkwhale, believes that a shortened work week can push employees to be more productive: “Although a four-day week might seem counterproductive, I believe it’s actually the opposite. Since the hours are reduced, employees may feel the need to do more work to avoid a heavy workload the next week.
A four-day week also reduces idle time and will push both employees and their employers to make use of their time wisely.”
Some experts believe the optimal working week should be 35hours, especially after the successful Icelandic trial.
The pilot program was a mutual effort between trade unions, the government, and Reykjavík City Council. It consisted of 2,500 workers who worked fewer hours and had an additional day off weekly.
Although, after the trial, most companies cut back between one to three hours, the results still showed increased employee happiness, satisfaction, and an improved work-life balance.
With that extra time, workers across different industries could spend more time with their friends and family and even take up new hobbies.
That and many other success stories show that the initiative is impactful in the correct workplace settings that put employee well-being first.
Is the Four-Day Week the Future of Work?
The four-day working week is more than a philosophy.
In fact, it’s much closer and more realistic than it initially seemed. And, with the right strategy, companies can remove barriers and make a four-day week the future of work.
Almost two-thirds of employers agree that the shorter workweek will be essential for future business success, recognizing the need for a more balanced life for their staff.
However, to implement a four-day workweek, leadership, managers, and employees must understand their responsibilities and adapt to the likely changes in the workplace.
Because if it does become the future of work, the shorter workweek will require mutual trust and will depend on employers giving their workers a chance to use the full potential of this perk.
Shaunak Amin, Co-founder, and CEO of STADIUM and SnackMagic, shares his opinion on the topic: “A four-day workweek empowers employees to take charge of their workflow. Micromanaging your team’s schedule doesn’t work to incentivize them. In leadership positions, having a high level of accountability is essential in earning the trust of your employees.
And building a culture of accountability throughout your organization means that ownership must be a 2-way street.
While it may take time to identify those team members who can manage their time well and maintain a high level of productivity and success, offering workers a four-day workweek option allows them to work to their full potential on their terms.
That increases your team’s level of commitment to achieving key results and improves staff retention rates for your business.”
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- The World’s Largest Four-Day Workweek Pilot Just Launched in the U.K.
- A Brief History of the 40-Hour Workweek
- How Many Productive Hours in a Work Day? Just 2 Hours, 23 Minutes…
- Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week
- Four-Day Week at Atom Bank Leads to 500 Percent Surge in Job Applicants Who Want 34 Hours a Week With No Pay Cut
- Popular Perks, Incentives, and Benefits
- The Pandemic Has Made a Four-Day Working Week More Attractive to Workers and Businesses, Study Finds
- The Four-Day Week: The Pandemic and the Evolution of Flexible Working
- 4 Fay Work Week Global, Pilot Program
- Microsoft Japan Tested a Four-Day Work Week and Productivity Jumped by 40%
- Work Less, Get More: New Zealand Firm’s Four-Day Week an ‘Unmitigated Success’
- Four Better or Four Worse?
- The High Cost of Unhappy Employees
- Japan’s Panasonic Joins Global Trend Toward Four-Day Week
- Kickstarter Will Test a Four-Day Workweek in 2022, Will Your Workplace Be Next?
- A Year And a Half Later, Here’s How The Four Day Workweek is Going at Buffer
- Revealed: People in Scotland Support Four-Day Week for Boosts in Wellbeing and Productivity
- Spain to Launch Trial of Four-Day Working Week
- Jacinda Ardern Flags Four-Day Working Week as Way to Rebuild New Zealand After COVID-19
- Japan Proposes Four-Day Working Week to Improve Work-Life Balance
- UAE’s New, Shorter Workweek Becomes Effective in 2022
- White Paper – The Four-Day Week
- The Impact of Working a 4-Day Week
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