Let’s be honest, who doesn’t look forward to a long weekend. A chance to spend quality time with family, run some errands, or catch up on Netflix, what’s not to like? Imagine, then, if a 4-day week was introduced in your workplace, how cool would that be. Flexible working has undoubtedly emerged as one of the main legacies of the pandemic. Hybrid models, remote working, and staggered schedules are now commonplace. Surely, a 4-day work week is just a natural next step.
However, while employees may welcome the prospect of a shorter week, is it good news for businesses. Can you really maintain productivity if staff are working fewer hours?
Several recent high-profile experiments suggest it is possible to maintain or even increase productivity with a shorter week. Microsoft Japan’s announcement that productivity rose by 40 percent during a trial period grabbed attention worldwide.
In this post, we explore the pros and cons of a 4-day work week. By the end, you will be able to make a more informed decision for your business. Let’s get started with a definition of the 4-day work week.
What Is A 4-Day Work Week?
The 4-day work week is not to be confused with a compressed schedule. You probably already have employees who work their full quota of hours over four days. Instead, a 4-day week involves staff working fewer hours for the same pay.
Some companies have given employees the choice of what day they can take off. And others, like Microsoft Japan, have decided to shut up shop on Fridays or Mondays. Another option is to have a staff roster to ensure you satisfy customer service and operational needs throughout the week.
There’s no doubt that for many businesses, fewer hours in a week is impractical. Hospitality, retail, and health providers will find the concept challenging. However, proponents of the shorter week argue that most companies can make it work. Furthermore, they contend, the 4-day work week offers many benefits.
What Are The Benefits Of A 4-Day Work Week?
Those in favor of a 4-day week claim that the benefits go beyond creating a better work-life balance for staff. Here’s a run-through of the main benefits put forward:
Supporters claim reductions in energy consumption and pollution generated by commuters are major benefits of a 4-day week.
For example, the US state of Utah introduced a trial 4-day work week schedule. The experiment resulted in savings of $1.8m in energy costs. And an estimated reduction of 12,000 metric tons of C02 by cutting down employees’ commuting. That’s the equivalent of taking 2,300 cars off the road for one year.
Better Use Of Time
According to advocates, the 4-day week encourages staff to use their time efficiently. More refreshed and energized, the argument is that workers are more focused on the task. Plus, the incentive of a day off sees them happily put in extra effort to get the job done.
Reduced Turnover And Absenteeism
The 4-day work week means that staff come to work more rested and invigorated. And they are better able to cope with workplace challenges. The argument goes workers are less likely to take sick leave or duvet days. And a better work-life balance results in happier workers, reduced turnover and increased employee engagement.
An Equal Workplace
Proponents claim that a 4-day work week provides for greater equality in the workplace. It allows staff to juggle childcare or caring responsibilities more easily. And with women being disproportionately affected, it results in a more equal workplace.
Does A 4-Day Week Increase Productivity?
For most companies, this is perhaps the crucial question. Is it really possible for staff to work shorter hours and maintain, or even better, increase productivity?
Those in favor of a shorter work week argue that it’s a myth that employees are currently productive all the time. Research cited by SHRM suggests that workers are only productive for an average of 2 hours and 23 minutes per day. The rest of the time is spent dealing with unnecessary emails and attending pointless meetings. Furthermore, most of us waste plenty of time chatting with colleagues, checking social media, and reading the news online.
However, Stanford University has identified a strong link between hours worked and productivity. Their research found employees who feel overworked are less productive than those who work shorter hours.
Proponents of the 4-day work week argue that more refreshed and focused employees can maintain and even increase productivity. Natalie Nagele, CEO of software company Widbit and 4-day week pioneer, summed it us as follows:
‘I don’t think 40-hour weeks are productive. Give employees space to do their work. Don’t micromanage them. Don’t harass them. Don’t make them go to unnecessary meetings. They will get more done in four hours than eight.’
What Are The Disadvantages Of A 4-Day Work Week?
Those against the concept of a reduced work week have identified several disadvantages, including the following:
Decreased Customer Satisfaction
Ironically, the state of Utah experiment we mentioned earlier closed due to reduced customer satisfaction. Despite the environmental benefits, customers complained that they couldn’t access government services when offices were closed.
Rostered days off and using technology such as chatbots and extranets can solve some customer service issues. However, maintaining high levels of customer service remains a stumbling block for many businesses.
It Opens The Door To Competitors
Detractors argue that introducing a 4-day work week gives the competition an opportunity. If your company is closed on Fridays, existing and potential customers may turn instead to your competitors. And AI-powered websites and chatbots won’t satisfy those customers that want personal service.
More Unequal Workplaces
Rather than helping to address workplace inequalities, critics claim the 4-day week creates more imbalances.
As we have seen, not all industries can easily implement a 4-day work week. Teachers, nurses, and public transport workers are just some professions where a shorter week presents challenges. Employers in these sectors may find they have to hire more workers to cover those enjoying a day off, making it uneconomic. So, for whole sections of society, the 4-day week maybe just pie in the sky. This could lead to more rather than less workforce inequality.
Which Country Has A 4 Day Work Week?
So, which countries have experimented with a 4-day work week? Several companies worldwide have introduced 4-day arrangements. These real-world experiences provide insights into how a 4-day work week could impact your business.
One of the forerunners for a 4-day work week is New Zealand’s Perpetual Guardian. The company is often held up as an exemplary pioneer of the shortened week. The company introduced the new approach following a successful trial in 2018. Staff are paid for 37.5 hours but are required to work only 30 hours with the same output.
According to Perpetual Guardian, employees have maintained the same productivity levels since introducing the 4-day work week. Furthermore, the company reports increases in job satisfaction, teamwork, and company loyalty. Overall, staff experienced decreased stress levels of up to 45 percent and felt they had a better work-life balance. And all of this has been achieved without compromising on productivity.
Perpetual Guardian’s founder Andrew Barnes has co-authored a book, The 4 Day Week, which details the company’s experiences.
In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialed a 4-day workweek. Employees were given Fridays off without any reductions in pay. The company wanted to see whether allowing employees to ‘work in a short time, take a good rest and learn well’ would increase productivity and creativity.
The results were enlightening. Microsoft Japan reported that productivity (expressed as sales per employee) increased by almost 40 percent over the same period in the previous year. Furthermore, power consumption decreased by 23 percent.
However, the company also reported that 90 percent of workers were in favor of the change. Some skeptics have suggested that employees may have had a vested interest in making the experiment work.
Berlin-based tech company Awin introduced a 4-day work week following their experiences of flexible working during Covid-19 lockdowns. Staff can choose their day off or take two half days with no cuts in salary or benefits.
Awin has put in place some checks and balances to ensure customer services and operations are not impacted. For example, finance staff are required to work five days during January to cover reporting requirements. And software has been introduced to support team collaboration.
Overall though, the company is optimistic about the change. ‘We firmly believe happy, engaged, and well-balanced employees produce much better work,’ says CEO Adam Ross. ‘Staff find ways to work smarter, and they’re just as productive,’ he adds.
A Swedish care home experimented with a shorter working week in a two-year trial from 2015-2017. Nurses worked a shorter 6-hour day for five days a week while still receiving full pay. Results from the trial were positive. Nurses took less sick leave and reported better health and mental wellbeing. Furthermore, productivity received a boost with an 85 percent increase in organized activities for patients.
However, the project was subsidized with taxpayers’ money. And the backlash over the perceived cost-benefit analysis resulted in the experiment being abandoned.
Authorities in Spain have taken the 4-day work week concept to another level. The country is about to introduce a pilot program that extends the weekend for Spanish workers without any pay reductions. The program will assess whether the extra day boosts employee morale and allows businesses to achieve more in less time.
It’s an ambitious pilot requiring an investment of €50m to mitigate risk for participating companies. Up to 200 businesses are expected to take part, with a total of between 3,000 to 6,000 workers.
Spanish politician Iñigo Errejón told the UK’s The Guardian that the 4-day week was ‘an idea whose time has come.’ He added, ‘Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. I maintain that working more hours does not mean working better.’
The pilot is still in the planning stages, and so the results are several years away. However, its scope is a good indicator of just how mainstream the idea of a 4-day work week has become.
4-Day Work Week: The Future Of Work Or The Latest Fad?
There’s no doubting that for some industries, a 4-day week is unfeasible. The experience of the Swedish care home we highlighted above is a good example.
However, the new approach can make sense for knowledge-based businesses. For example, architects, engineers, and software developers may thrive when concentrating their efforts in fewer hours. Indeed, the evidence from Perpetual Guardian and Awin appear to confirm this.
The demand for more flexible work options is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that workers don’t need to be in the office 9-5 to get the job done. What’s more, surveys suggest 97 percent of workers don’t want to return to the office full-time.
The 4-day week may well provide workers with the flexibility they want while still ensuring high productivity.
One thing for sure, if you introduce a shorter work week, you will need digital workplace solutions to make it happen. MyHub’s cloud intranets are used by businesses worldwide to support more flexible, hybrid working. Our fast-to-learn and easy-to-implement intranets will improve communications, support team collaboration, and enhance productivity. Explore what’s on offer with a free demo or 14-day trial today.