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Four-Day Work Week: Truth And Dare

If everything is this good, why don’t we all work four days a week?

3 key takeaways from this blog:

  • You will be introduced to a four-day work week, its benefits, and its challenges.
  • You will see how other companies adjusted to a four-day work week and the effect of it on their employees
  • You will get some tips on how to adapt to new working hours.

“Thursday! Finally! Can’t wait to finish this work week and go home.” – This could be our future. Looking forward to Thursdays instead of Fridays. Even though it sounds impossible, more than a hundred companies currently have a four-day workweek and a 32-hour work week. Those companies are from various, mainly white-collar fields such as IT, marketing, finance, etc. Surprisingly, even manufacturing and service companies participate in a four-day work week trial that started this year in the U.S. 

How does a four-day work week work?

To make it easy to understand, we can summarize the idea behind this concept in the 100-80-100 principle, which means that employees receive 100% pay for 80% work week while maintaining 100% productivity. Imagine working Monday to Thursday, 9.00 to 17.00, for the same salary with the same tasks and workload. Perfect, right? Yet, many companies and managers see it as unattainable, even unthinkable.

What does the data say?

In 2018, the Perpetual Guardian introduced a four-day work trial, which lasted eight weeks. Researchers gathered data from employees and supervisors one week before and one week after the trial ended. Comparing the results showed a positive impact of a four-day work week.

Employees reported higher work-life balance. With three days off, they had more time for their families, friends, and leisure activities. Results also showed an increase in well-being; employees reported higher life, health, and job satisfaction. They also noted higher work engagement and retention. Interestingly, data showed a decrease in work demands while retaining the same productivity. Despite working four days a week, employees reported less workload and stress on the job.

Overall, this sounds great! Workers are more satisfied, there is no decrease in productivity, and employee retention is high. Unfortunately, not everything is black or white. 

In 2021, Collective Campus, a business consulting and services company, did a little experiment. They decided to work four days a week for four weeks. Contrary to the previous results, they noted a drop in productivity by around 20%. Baffled by the results, they started digging into the other studies which showed an increase in productivity.

They noticed that participants in those studies reported changes in their work behavior while working only four days a week. Participants said their time management was better. More precisely, they were more effective in delegating tasks, and the meetings were shorter. The conclusion is that fewer work days contributed to better time management, and, consequently, productivity increased. The drop in productivity in Collective Campus was, as they later realized, the consequence of poor workflow.

Collective Campus isn’t the only company that didn’t have a positive experience with a four-day work week. Treehouse also had a bad experience, so they went back to a five-day work week. One of the problems that occurred was losing one of the biggest clients. Luckily, these negative results are rare, and many other studies (e. g. Microsoft Japan, Metro Manila) support the positive outlook on the four-day work week.

Benefits of a four-day work week

Working fewer hours per week and getting the same salary as 40 hours a week is more than enough benefit for employees. However, as we saw from various studies, there are even more benefits for employees and employers. Let us name a few.

  1. Employee retention. It is one of the most important benefits of a four-day work week. At the moment, employee retention is one of the biggest challenges in the business world. Workers, hard-working ones especially, are hard to find and keep. They can easily find better job positions and conditions, so switching companies is a normal thing in many industries. Thus, being able to provide a four-day work week as a benefit is something that will attract good workers and will retain them in the company.
  2. The well-being of employees. Who wouldn’t want to be happy? And who wouldn’t want to have joyful and satisfied employees? Well, having a four-day work week can contribute to the well-being of employees. Having one more day off gives them enough time for themselves, their friends, and their families. People who work fewer days a week have plenty of time to rest, their hobbies, etc. Also, they are healthier since they work less than before.
  3. Efficient workflow. The lack of working days will make employees rethink how they spend their time in the office. Having endless meetings or spending too much time doing irrelevant tasks is well known to everyone. Managers and their teams will have to optimize their workflow. Employees will be encouraged to work smarter and more efficiently. And, as the results showed, productivity will increase by making workflow more efficient.
  4. It is beneficial for the environment. Maybe some of you didn’t think of this benefit, but some research shows that working four days a week reduces carbon emissions by more than 20%. Just imagine how much fuel everyone who comes to the office uses. We also use electricity and water every day in our offices. Working one day less would mean less usage of fuel, electricity, water, etc.

Are there any challenges?

If everything is this good, why don’t we work four days a week? Are there any hidden challenges and side effects? Unfortunately, there are. 

  1. Availability to clients. The most advocated challenge. What if our clients want to have a meeting on Friday and we are not available? Well, this certainly is a problem. But, “Is it a big problem?” is the right question. You are already unavailable on Saturdays and Sundays. It might seem like a big deal now, but companies will adapt and accept the new working schedule. It just takes time.
  2. Fewer work days, longer hours. Sometimes companies reduce the number of working days, but the number of working hours stays the same. So, in those cases, employees are forced to work 9 or 10 hours a day. The reason behind this is a fear that employees won’t be able to finish their weekly tasks. However, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Employees who work 10 hours a day won’t be as productive in the last 2 hours. So, these conditions only make workers more tired and less efficient.
  3. Work overload. How to squeeze a five-day workload into four days? Hiring new people isn’t always an option. And, as said before, working longer hours isn’t the best choice. So, this challenge will rely on a benefit that was mentioned – efficient workflow. Yes, the fear of potential work overload is real. But, if managers and their teams sit down and review their tasks, they will overcome this fear.

Here are some suggestions on how to make a workflow efficient:

  • Optimize communication. Make sure that every employee has the right and relevant information. It will help them make the right decision in crucial times.
  • Assign a task to the right person. Having the right person assigned to the job will save you time and money. 
  • Automatization. Automating some basic processes, such as keeping track of vacation days, will save you time and nerves.

There are certainly more benefits and more challenges than those mentioned. Those depend on the organizational culture and policies and can be individual to each company. The fear of challenges shouldn’t stop us from experiencing the benefits of a four-day work week. 

To leave this topic on a positive note, we can certainly overcome these challenges and find a way to adapt to them. But, we must be patient and eager to change.

Author: Ivana Burić

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