The pandemic plus The Great Resignation has employers and businesses everywhere asking: What will the future of work look like? How can we re-work our norms to adapt to employee needs?
One possible answer is appearing in headlines and rippling through Congress. The four-day workweek is capturing the attention of employers and employees everywhere. While a shorter workweek might sound like a fantasy, countries and companies have been experimenting with the idea for years.
What is a four-day workweek? What are the pros and cons of this model? What companies and countries have tried this model, and what did they experience? This post will answer those questions, dive into the three undeniable benefits of a four-day workweek, and prepare you for common challenges. If you’re thinking about trying a four-day workweek or making a case for one, this post will give you everything you need to do so.
Curious about creating more time in your workday? Clockwise optimizes your schedule to create a smarter calendar. You can learn more here. If you’d like to learn how to implement a time management toolkit for your team, we also offer solutions for teams.
What is a four-day workweek?
In a four-day workweek, employees work over the course of four days per week instead of the traditional five days.
Models vary based upon business needs. The main difference between them is how many hours employees have to work in total.
In some companies, employees work four days per week but still must hit 40 hours by working ten-hour days. Other companies are experimenting with four-day workweeks that include fewer working hours, targeting 32 hours per week through traditional eight-hour workdays. These are the most common structures of this model.
Companies experimenting with four-day workweeks
Below are five companies that are experimenting with and embracing four-day workweeks and the model they’re using:
Primary, an online children’s clothing store, launched a four-day work week experiment working 32-hour weeks in 2020 in light of the pandemic. The company gave employees every Friday off from May to December. By the time the end of the year rolled around, they extended the experiment indefinitely due to its success. Now, occasional work happens on Fridays, but it’s a meeting-free day company-wide.
Primary reported that the four-day workweek allowed employees to return to work on Monday feeling recharged. And on top of that, the company’s voluntary attrition rate fell to a mere 7% during The Great Resignation — a time where employees are leaving their jobs en masse.
Tech company Buffer is a pioneer of the four-day workweek. Buffer conducted a four-day work week experiment in May of 2020 in direct response to the pandemic. Buffer rolled out 32-hour weeks for one month, and it successfully helped team members manage their stress levels.
While the experiment was positive for many, feedback results revealed that some teammates struggled with the schedule change for two reasons. First, not everyone had the same day off. Plus, public holidays conflicted with time off. This made keeping up with schedules confusing. But since the one-month trial went so well overall, Buffer pursued a six-month pilot of their four-day workweek.
The extended pilot proved to be a success as well. Results showed that it boosted autonomy from 4.3 to 4.7 out of 5, decreased stress levels from 3.3 to 2.9 out of 5, and established stable happiness levels at around 3.7 out of 5, even in a world flipped upside down.
Buffer is sticking with the four-day workweek for the foreseeable future with some caveats. Team members who don’t meet their objectives may need to return to a five-day week, and some roles have workweeks that look different due to the nature of the position.
- Elephant Ventures
Elephant Ventures put their own spin on the four-day workweek, running a two-month trial in August of 2021. Instead of cutting back hours, the company shifted toward 10-hour days Monday through Thursday.
While it was an adjustment for employees at first, the excitement around three-day weekends grew over time. Workers shared that the new flexibility gave them more time for personal commitments and errands. A shift in their meeting schedule (fewer meetings for more focused work time) improved efficiency. Elephant Ventures has since moved to a permanent condensed four-day workweek schedule.
San Francisco-based tech firm Bolt recently announced its decision to transition to a permanent four-day workweek after their 2021 pilot. Bolt reported great success after the initial pilot. The company shifted to 32-hour weeks with downtime on Fridays to catch up on any tasks as needed. The company found that:
- 94% of employees wanted the four-day workweek program to continue
- 86% of team members were more efficient with their time
- 87% of managers shared that their team maintained productivity and service levels as needed
In July 2021, Kickstarter announced plans to pilot a four-day workweek beginning in 2022. The company is choosing to pursue a 32-hour week model. While we’re still in the early days, we look forward to learning more about their results and whether they choose to pursue a shorter workweek in the future.
Countries piloting four-day workweeks
The idea of a shorter workweek isn’t entirely new. In fact, companies in countries across the globe are testing working fewer hours per week too.
Shorter workweeks across Iceland
From 2015-2019, Iceland conducted two large four-day workweek trials that included 2,500 workers. Researchers deemed the experiments an “overwhelming success,” with a dramatic increase in well-being and unchanged or improved productivity and service. Workers averaged 35-36 hours per week with no cut in pay.
As a result of these studies, Iceland reevaluated working patterns across the country. As of July 2021, BBC reported that 86% of Iceland’s workforce moved to shorter hours or will have the right to do so.
New Zealand makes headlines for four-day workweek success
It’s not just Iceland realizing the benefits of the four-day workweek. Companies like Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand reported similar positive results following its four-day workweek trial in 2018. After reading productivity statistics, CEO Andrew Barnes felt inspired to pilot a four-day workweek. He wondered if he would see productivity increase if he gave his employees an extra day off.
It turns out Barnes was right. Employees brainstormed ways to shift how they were using their work time to include spending less time in meetings, reducing interruptions by signaling to coworkers that they were unavailable and reducing distractions. Outside researchers surveyed employees before and after the trial. They published a complete analysis of their findings which ultimately outlined persistent themes, including increased focus, more motivation at work, and a more resilient organization, to name a few.
Andrew Barnes is so passionate about the idea of shorter workweeks that he partnered with Charlotte Lockhart to establish a not-for-profit community, 4 Day Week Global, to encourage and support businesses who want to pilot four-day workweeks.
Governments in Spain and Japan advocate for four-day workweeks
Spain swept headlines when they announced that the country would complete a multi-year trial run of the four-day workweek concept in response to the pandemic. The Spanish government agreed to back a 32-hour workweek without cutting pay and invested 50 million euros ($60 million) in the program.
The experiment is among the first to extend across an entire country. Will Spain’s country-wide program succeed at permanently reducing the country’s working hours? Only time will tell.
And Spain isn’t the only country with government officials exploring and encouraging more time off for workers. The Japanese Parliament opened discussions in early 2021 on a proposal that would permit workers to opt for a four-day workweek and reduce the likelihood of “karoshi” or “death by overwork.”
In June of 2021, the Japanese government included new recommendations in its annual economic policy guidelines that companies allow their employees to opt for four-day workweeks.
In the years leading up to the proposal, Microsoft Japan tested a four-day workweek and saw productivity climb 40%. And more recently, Panasonic announced it would start offering a four-day workweek to support its employees, following the Japanese government’s recommendation last year.
Three pros of a four-day workweek
Research shows that a four-day workweek can increase productivity, save money for businesses, and reduce companies’ carbon footprint.
1. Increased productivity
The first benefit of a four-day workweek is the increase in productivity that most companies experience when piloting shorter weeks. Let’s face it — just because employees are on the clock for eight hours (or more) per day doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing productive work the entire time. A recent study on workplace productivity showed that the average worker is productive for just over four hours during an eight-hour workday.
The four-day workweek has proved to maintain (and in some instances increase) productivity levels compared to a traditional five-day workweek. Remember the Microsoft Japan experiment? The company reported a 40% increase in productivity after giving its employees Fridays off during their trial. And when Andrew Barnes conducted a four-day workweek experiment at Perpetual Guardian, Barnes reported a 20% spike in employee productivity.
To put it simply, it seems that when employees have more free time to take care of personal matters, they’re able to focus more at work (rather than spend time thinking about the personal matters they aren’t able to get to). It’s a win-win for employers and employees.
2. Reduced business expenses
Companies that choose to embrace a four-day workweek can reduce business expenses. Office costs, commuter benefits, employee perks, and competitive salaries can really add up. On top of that, add free lunches, happy hours, and other charges that foster your company culture to your total expenses.
In one example, a four-day workweek eliminated 20% of variable overhead expenses (think about the lights you have to keep on at the office). Additionally, the same story suggested a business can save thousands of dollars on employee parking or public transportation costs and 20% on daily workplace perks spending. Even in the world of remote work, it’s possible to reduce business expenses through compensation adjustments and reduced total perks packages.
And one tangential way businesses can save money due to the four-day workweek is through boosted employee engagement that reduces costly turnover. Turnover is incredibly expensive, with one estimate that losing an employee costs a company upwards of two times that employee's salary.
3. Reduced carbon footprint
In a time when climate change and emissions are top of mind, a smaller carbon footprint is a great benefit of the four-day workweek. A 2021 report by the 4 Day Week Campaign highlighting the UK revealed that a four-day workweek could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by 21.3%. Another analysis suggests that four-day workweeks could help us reduce our carbon footprint,
ecological footprint, and carbon dioxide emissions.
The cons of a four-day workweek
Having an extra day off isn’t without a couple of cons worth considering (but don’t worry — there are solutions to these hurdles).
1. It’s not one-size-fits-all
Those in client-facing or customer service roles may not have the luxury of being able to shut down for an entire day. If you’re providing a service, there’s a good chance your clients will run into urgent issues that require support, which means employees may need to be available Monday through Friday. You can combat this through a staggered schedule in which employees have different days off to ensure coverage at all times, but this could produce different results than a four-day workweek that offers up a consecutive three-day weekend.
2. It could lead to more stress
While working fewer days per week may sound nice, there are a lot of dependent factors that can impact whether the model reduces — or adds — more stress. For example, if employees spend 20 hours per week in meetings and that expectation doesn’t change, a four-day workweek would give team members less time to get their work done.
The point is that a four-day workweek may require a productivity adjustment to help employees succeed. Clockwise can help businesses streamline processes around capacity planning, opening schedules for Focus Time, and optimizing meeting schedules. Employees need to make time for what matters, and Clockwise can help with that.
The four-day workweek is becoming increasingly popular as companies strive to find unique ways to support their employees’ mental health and happiness. Some of the main benefits of a shorter workweek include increased productivity, decreased business expenses, and a smaller carbon footprint. One way to explore the four-day workweek is to run a short-term experiment like many countries and companies have done to determine the impact on your business. If you’re considering a four-day workweek, consider how you’ll adjust your workflows and expectations so your employees can make the most of their time.
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