How Effective Is the 4-Day Work Week?

How Effective Is the 4-Day Work Week?

Table of Contents

Guest article from Mariia Bohdanovska, Content Manager at Jooble, one of the largest job search engines. 

The 4-day work week is one of the evergreen discussion topics in the labor market environment. It regularly pops up in conferences and in the media as more governments and private sector representatives conduct trials on moving to shorter hours.

The recent success of the Icelandic 4-day work week experiment created a buzz by proving the effectiveness of this approach. Over four years, among 2,500 employees across a number of sectors in Iceland, it found that people exhibited “greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better co-operative spirit in the workplace — all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity.

So, it raises the question – should we all consider the switch to working 28-30 hours instead of 40? And if so, how?

Pros of the 4-Day Work Week

Less stress, better health

Among the main arguments in favor of moving to shorter hours is decreasing stress and burnout levels among employees.

With the shorter number of hours, they are able to fully “recharge their batteries’’ before the new working week.  Individuals also get more leisure time for family, friends, and hobbies. Which in turn, improves mental health conditions and positively influences people across a wide range of factors.

Employees also show more creative and innovative approaches to problems because they simply have more time to process, and mull them over. Additionally, they are more productive during work hours because they are more focused on the task at hand, and the shorter work weeks sometimes result in more streamlined meetings because time is more valuable when you have less of it. 

Happy employees, loyal employees

Such favorable conditions also substantially improve recruitment and retention processes.

Most people eagerly agree to reduce their working hours (without pay cut) to achieve a better work-life balance. Happy people are more loyal to the company and with the reduced hours, performance increases significantly due to more streamlined operations and meetings. 

This is seen in Microsoft Japan where they tried a four-day work week in 2019 and reported a 40 per cent boost in productivity. And the New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian switched permanently to a four-day work week in 2018 after its trials saw a 20 per cent increase in productivity.

The 4-day work week policy can enhance self-discipline as well, by pushing people to thoughtfully prioritize tasks and optimize inner processes to accomplish them within a shorter period of time. 

Good for equality and ecology

Working 28-30 hours per week can help to increase equality in the workplace. An extra day off can narrow the gap between male and female workers. The latter have to take sick leave or a leave of absence for childcare, where a reduced work week can help to balance the load of child or elderly care. 

Moreover, this policy even reduces the organization’s carbon footprint. There are fewer cars on the road commuting, a reduction of electricity, water, and paper consumption are all obvious but crucial factors when thinking about streamlining your operations.

This is another big advantage of moving to a reduced work week. A new UK study finds that a 32-hour work week could help fight climate change by reducing emissions by more than 20%. 

As demonstrated above, switching to a 4-day work week is a viable solution for organizations to boost productivity, mental health and increase employee engagement and retention all while helping the environment. However, there are still debates about its effectiveness.

What’s the Catch to a 4-Day Work Week?

To understand if the concept of a cut working week is effective, we have to take a closer look at the obstacles to its implementation. Do they outnumber the benefits?

Not a one-size-fits-all concept

Needless to say that the 4-day work week doesn’t fit all industries.

For example, it’s hard to imagine such a switch among essential workers (food supply, transportation, emergency services, or industrial facilities). You have to consider your line of work and if this approach fits within it. It’s great to offer a condensed work week, but how will other colleagues feel if they’re not given the same opportunity?

To find out how your people feel about a condensed work week and what will work for them, deploy a survey to get their feedback. Schedule a demo today to see how WorkTango’s expertise can help you make the right decision.

Dangerous for competition

Even if the company produces software or specializes in public relations, a massive organization-wide transition to a 28-hour working week is unlikely to happen.

But smaller implementations are much more likely since companies can’t implement this policy at the same time and all together.

But until then, as the organization figures out what the best course of action will be, some competitors will benefit from the gap in your business schedule and planning resources as more time is invested in this initiative. 

Opportunity cost always comes into play for large policy changes such as this.

Colossal costs

A seamless transition to the reduced work week is impossible without thorough preparation… in which operational costs can be simply exorbitant. 

Research successful use-cases in your industry and have a look at what has helped them thrive and nourish a 4-day work week, paying particular attention to implementation. A few examples can be taken from Reykjavík City Council and Icelandic federal government and Microsoft Japan

Reorganize and synchronize all inner processes and make sure they effectively function under these new conditions. It’s also vital to keep customer satisfaction on the same unwavering level (and even try to upgrade it). Find and implement new approaches to communication that lend themselves to varied work schedules.

Employees themselves also need to adjust to the new reality. Firstly, they have to realize what scope of tasks to do within a shorter period of time and how to make the most of 4 days.

Secondly, the self-discipline we were talking about earlier doesn’t appear out of the blue. It’s great if you can trust your teams completely right from the go, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry. At first, closely monitor their performance  –  it’s crucial for tracking results, keeping people accountable, and ensuring output remains consistent. 

Fictitious productivity

Speaking of productivity, the Icelandic experiment showed employee’s results don’t get harmed by the reduced working week. They’ve managed to be equally as efficient with reduced hours as a result of streamlined internal processes. 

However, what we understand by enhanced productivity is up for debate. Providing that people can fulfill exactly the same tasks during a shorter period, it’s rather a worrying sign for management. If the cut working week leaves no time for business improvement, practicing new approaches to clients or partners, what kind of productivity are we talking about?

Let’s also keep in mind the Hawthorne effect. Which proves that people tend to change their behavior when they know they are being observed.

That’s why evaluating productivity within a company is an ever-lasting process and something that needs to be meticulously monitored when making any large organizational change. 

Terminology confusion

The last (but not least) point is terminology confusion around the 4-day work week.

Many people get it mixed up with compressed hours. A compressed schedule assumes the person spends the traditional 35-40 hours in less than five workdays. In this case, being overworked or burnt out (and other side-effects caused by them) can hit the employees even harder.

On the other hand, compressed hours as a form of flexibility can still be beneficial for some employees.  

Meanwhile, a 4-day work week reduces the number of hours worked in a week to fall between 30-32, while still getting paid as a full-time employee. Choose what is feasible for your organization financially and logistically, and ensure your employees are also clear with their work expectations.

The last thing you need is for the wrong information to get out and to have your employees spreading misinformation, causing confusion and potentially an internal conflict.

Will You Try It?

The 4-day work week for a specific organization

All arguments and counterarguments mentioned above make us think and evaluate the effectiveness of the 4-day work week.

The true answer is subjective and depends on industry trends, organizational agility, and employee readiness. The progressive business environment where companies aren’t afraid of experiments encourages them to try new management concepts.

Industries where burnout happens more often, can also take the 4-day work week into consideration to help alleviate some of that stress but need to consider resource and employee allocation.

If the company has solid teams that have been working together for a long time, it will take less time to rebuild business processes because of the familiarity of the team’s deliverables and chain of command. Employees also have to manifest their willingness to change. If this working model doesn’t meet their aspirations, there is no point in implementing it.

That’s why employee retention is so important. Check out our webinar on Talent Retention in the Hybrid and Remote Workplace with Chris Dyer, bestselling author and international keynote speaker on remote work. In the webinar, Chris walks through the important changes needed in how we meet and work, and how to retain talent moving forward.

The 4-day work week for everyone 

However, in a broader sense, the buzz about the 4-day work week reflects social demand for changes in labor culture. The concept of long hours gets outdated as more people see that unrelenting work doesn’t always pay off for ruined health and relations.

With rapid technological advancements and (unfortunately) Covid, work sneaks into our homes and blends into our daily routine. We’re pretty tired of endless Zoom discussions that drain energy and time and a cut work week is a viable option to reduce those meetings. 

As employees gain more flexibility than before, employers still struggle to embrace the diversity of characters and working styles. Employees want to organize and complete tasks in their own way, but they don’t always have the freedom to do so.

The 4-Day Work Week is Not a Fad

To summarize, the 4-day work week can be a very effective policy providing the profound preparation of the organization’s management. It’s not just a new (or renewed) HR fad.

The labor market keeps searching for viable solutions on how to align shifts in people’s consciousness and job demand. Today’s working conditions have dramatically changed due to the pandemic, so having the right personal traits to transition to this new work schedule is essential. People began reconsidering their professional aspirations and the very concept of work in life. The pandemic made many of us think about the fragility and volatility of the future. Embracing these facts helps balance employee’s goals and employers’ requirements.

The 4-day work week can be a good tool to help your people be the best they can be and streamline processes. But, is your organization ready?