What is the four-day work week, and what does it look like?
“Working more hours does not mean working better,” says Iñigo Errejón, the leader of Spain’s small left-wing Spanish party, who has proposed a €50m pilot project that would allow at least 200 companies to trial reduced work hours with minimal risk over a three-year period.
Errejón, and other advocates for a four-day work week, believes that working fewer hours can actually increase employee productivity, loyalty and satisfaction, and thereby employee retention.
Many politicians agree with this belief, including Finland’s new Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who has indicated she will institute a nationwide four-day work week. Additionally, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has suggested an abbreviated work week could save the country’s economy by relying on residents, rather than tourists, to spend money locally on long weekends off.
But it’s not just politicians advocating for the four-day work week. Many business leaders, workers and even large corporations are on board for implementing a reduced-hours work schedule, including Microsoft Japan. In the summer of 2019, Microsoft Japan conducted a temporary four-day work week study titled, “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer” and afterward announced it saw a significant employee productivity boost of 40%, as well as other peripheral benefits, such as a 23% reduction in electricity costs.
So, how could a four-day work week benefit your business, and what exactly does it look like?
Benefits of a four-day work week
A four-day work week includes 32 hours of work spread over four days with five-day pay. Rather than compressing hours, the alternative work week proposes reducing hours for several benefits, including increased productivity and higher employee satisfaction.
One of the largest benefits of a four-day work week is a significant increase in employee productivity, according to studies.
According to a recent UK study, which looked at 1,989 full-time UK office workers, the average time an employee spends working during a traditional eight-hour workday is just two hours and 23 minutes. The rest of that time is spent on time-killing activities such as surfing social media, reading the news, making food or even looking for new jobs.
Andrew Barnes, a New Zealand entrepreneur and coauthor of the book “4 Day Week,” claims the best way to combat a lack of productivity is to give people an extra day off, which creates extra incentive to work harder.
Mental health also plays a big factor in productivity at work, according to the San Francisco-based nonprofit Mind Share Partners Mental Health at Work study. The nonprofit found that out of 1,500 employees, 60% of respondents said their productivity at work was affected by the quality of their mental health.
Businesses employers who have experimented with a four-day work week claim their employees noted a three-day weekend significantly reduced stress at work, improving overall mental health and boosting productivity.
Additionally, with fewer hours of work, organizations have to structure work days differently. That means less micromanagement and fewer meetings. Eliminating such tedious tasks means fewer distractions from important work.
Other benefits to increased productivity in the workplace include:
- Higher-quality work
- Less absenteeism
- Higher profitability
- Higher output
- Fewer missed deadlines
- Lower employee turnover
Increased employee satisfaction
Employee satisfaction increasingly relies on a flexible work schedule and positive work/life balance. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are working toward improving both the physical and mental well-being of their employees.
Employees presented with the opportunity of a four-day work week appreciate the flexible schedule, fewer tedious tasks at work and more quality time spent at home. This increase in general well-being lends to higher employee satisfaction, which then leads to the next benefit: employee retention.
Better employee retention
Millennials, long advocates of a more flexible work schedule, make up the largest generational sector in the workforce today. This fact, combined with increased interest in mental and physical well-being due to the pandemic, means employers should consider offering their employees a more flexible schedule with a better work/life balance.
Offering employees a more flexible schedule increases an employee’s incentive to stay with your company long term.
Attract more talent
Among the many benefits of offering a more flexible work schedule is the ability to attract more talent. Highly qualified professionals are more likely to apply for jobs with companies that don’t observe rigid work hours, as this helps them take care of outside obligations or manage a long commute.
By advertising a four-week work schedule, you could attract even more talented professionals and grow your applicant pool.
How to decide if a four-day work week is right for your business
While there are many benefits to a four-day work week, there can be drawbacks to an alternative schedule as well. It’s important to consider several factors before deciding if a four-day work week is right for your business and employees.
Define your goals for a four-day work week
Before implementing any changes, ask yourself why you want to change your work schedule. Is your main goal to boost employee productivity? Are you interested in increasing employee retention? Or do you recognize that your employees require more flexibility?
How will you measure the effectiveness of a four-day work week?
In order to enable employee flexibility and maintain effectiveness, it’s essential to clearly outline how to measure effectiveness before implementing a four-day work week.
Many companies, like Microsoft Japan, don’t simply jump into a four-day work week. It’s essential to test your system first. This will help you determine the impact of a flexible work schedule.
By implementing a flexible work schedule for a short period, you gain the opportunity to gather data, identify potential issues and assess the overall impact and outcome.
How will you maintain employee effectiveness?
Once you’ve established a system for measuring effectiveness, you need to think about how to maintain employee effectiveness within a flexible work environment. One method is to recruit for flexibility. Make sure you’re advertising the four-day work week broadly to attract employees who are most interested in a flexible schedule.
What exactly will the schedule look like?
Many businesses need to operate five to seven days a week. So, how can you implement a four-day work week while still ensuring your customers’ needs are met?
Many companies opt to put their employees on alternating four-day schedules. For example, half your customer service team might take off Mondays, while the other half takes off Fridays.
Will your customers approve?
As always, it’s important to understand your customers. Are they likely to approve of the decision for a more flexible work schedule for your employees?
Transparency is key.
Will you require the entire staff to adopt the four-day work week schedule?
Not all employees are interested in a four-day work week. If this is the case for your company, decide if your business can withstand your employees working both a more traditional work schedule and a four-day work week.