While the idea of only working for just four days a week while being paid for five sounds too good to be true — it could be the future of work.
With the pandemic accelerating many organisations’ adoption of flexible working models, the idea of offering a four-day workweek to help employees achieve an improved work-life balance and to promote workplace wellbeing has been met with enthusiasm by workers and HR professionals alike.
But could a four day workweek actually work in your business?
How does it work?
You may be wondering, why would a business pay its employees the same for working fewer hours? Instead of working 35 to 40 hours per week over five days, a four-day workweek sees employees work as few as 28 hours over four days, with a three-day weekend.
While the four-day workweek may seem like a crazy idea, a reduction in work hours is nothing new. Let’s not forget that until about 100 years ago, it was common for employees, including children, to work 10 to 16 hours per day, six days a week.
In fact, during the Great Depression in the 1930s, English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that within 100 years, the working week would be reduced to 15 hours. While his prediction may have been off, we are trending in that direction.
The first country to legislate an eight-hour work day was the Soviet Union in 1917. While many other countries have adopted this, the UK does not enforce by law an eight-hour working day. However, under the Working Time Regulations of 1998, employees under the age of 18 are limited to 40 hours per week, and workers older than 18 are limited to 48 hours per week.
The benefits of a four-day workweek
A four-day workweek has been made possible in recent years due to advancements in technology that allow employees to streamline and automate their workflows. Plus, if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that people can thrive in different work situations.
According to research, one benefit of implementing a four-day workweek is improved productivity. Overworked employees are actually less productive and at risk of burnout, whereas workers that are well rested are happier and more engaged employees.
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based financial services company, ran a pilot programme featuring a four-day workweek in 2018. The results? Lower stress, happier employees, and a 20% increase in productivity. Workers’ stress levels dropped 7% and work-life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%. The company also reported increased profits.
Iceland also recently released the results of a four-year long trial of a four-day working week, with researchers calling the move an “overwhelming success”. About 1% of the country’s population participated in the trial, which covered a range of workplaces including preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals. Many workers moved from a 40-hour week to 35 to 36 hours, and productivity either stayed the same or improved. Workers also reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout, and that their work-life balance had improved.
Reduced working hours could also encourage greater equality in the workplace. With many women in particular unable to balance their careers and caring responsibilities, a four-day workweek could provide women the ability to both participate in the workforce and spend time with their children.
One unexpected benefit of a shorter working week is a reduced carbon footprint! One day a week, employees will not be creating emissions from their commute and work tasks. During a five-week trial of a shorter working week, Microsoft Japan reported a 23% reduction in weekly electricity use in the office and, surprisingly, a 59% decrease in the number of pages printed by employees.
The downsides of a shorter working week
If you reduce your entire workforce to a four-day workweek, you are losing an entire business day. For some businesses, for example, those working in sales, this could equate to lost business. This structure will also not work for companies that need to be able to respond quickly to business opportunities that your competitors could be taking advantage of. Using the example of sales professionals again, this is one less day a week individuals have to generate new leads and to connect with customers.
Similarly, if you close for one business day a week, your company could see a decrease in customer satisfaction. If your customers require support and you aren’t back in the office until next week, they will be understandably frustrated and possibly take their business elsewhere.
But don’t think that this means your business cannot embrace a four-day working week if you really want to! If your business is customer-centric (which in reality, all businesses should be) you may want to consider offering your employees a staggered four-day workweek. This could look like having some employees working Monday to Thursday and others working Tuesday to Friday to ensure your availability is unaffected.
Another way that adopting a four-day working week does not work is when it is done wrong. Remember, a shorter working week isn’t about carrying out 40 hours of work across four days but some companies have tried to do it this way. This only contributes to issues such as employee stress, burnout and disruptions to your workers’ routines by requiring them to work an extra couple of hours per day.
Finally, a shorter workweek can result in decreased productivity if your workflows or project deadlines are not adjusted for your new schedule. Without the right technology to support this transition, it can also result in missed deadlines, miscommunications, and conflict.
Is this the future of work?
The answer is — it depends. A four-day workweek will not work for each and every business but a lot of it comes down to planning. Without having measurable goals, your efforts to boost productivity and your employees’ wellbeing could fall short.