The past few years have seen a lot of changes to what the rhythm of working looks like.
Some companies have moved to remote work, while others have made significant changes to how their work weeks are structured.
The four day work week has had some good reviews but of course, it comes with its own set of challenges as well. In this article, we’ll take a look at this new way of working from all perspectives.
What is a 4 day workweek?
A four day work week is no different than what it sounds like – rather than working the standard five days each week, employees report for only four days of work each week.
The concept is implemented in various ways across different industries and organizations but is always centered around the practice of attending work for only four days each week.
Where does the 4 day workweek come from?
The concept of working four days a week rather than five is inspired by the fact that employee productivity has increased by up to 5% annually but compensation rates have not increased by more than 2% annually over the same time period.
The number of hours worked each week has remained at a steady average of up to 43 hours – the four day working week is a way of closing that gap and helping create a better work-life balance at the same time.
The prevalence of work burnout and anxiety
Anxiety and burnout at work aren’t limited to specific generations though. Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work shows that in professions whose primary commodity is information (eg. doctors, engineers, teachers, editors etc), 63% of workers experienced burnout in 2022.
Burnout and anxiety are very real challenges facing the modern workforce.
The two generations in the highest support of the four day work week are Millenials and Gen Z, which is easily understood when you consider that 74% and 84% respectively reported that they have experienced burnout.
The desire for a better work-life balance
The way employees approach their work and what they expect from their employers is vastly different than it was even 10 years ago.
Top among their employment priorities is work-life balance, with that detail coming in as more important than even compensation.
A four-day working week offers the opportunity for an improved work-life balance without the company experiencing ill effects.
What are the benefits of a 4 Day Work Week?
The four day work week carries many benefits, ranging from productivity to ecological impacts.
If you believe that more hours worked per week results in increased productivity, you may be surprised by the results that companies have had by testing the four day work week.
For example, employees of Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand who participated in a trial four day working week maintained the same productivity as their 5 day norms. And on top of that, they reported higher job satisfaction and company loyalty when working only four days per week.
It’s easy to think that our local norms are the same as global norms as far as workplace standards – the American dream is built on shift work and 9-5 Monday – Friday work schedules and we are a prosperous nation – that work rhythm must be synonymous with optimal productivity, right? Wrong.
The most productive countries, like Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands, see employees following a 27 hour work week for the most part.
Productivity increases are clearly one of the benefits of working a four day week.
It is certainly not a secret that the struggle for work-life balance lands much more severely on women.
Nearly 1.2 million women have had to make the choice to leave their employment as a result of their at-home demands. Additionally, more women than men fulfill multiple high-responsibility roles outside of their employment, though the expectations for efficiency and effectiveness at work are of course no different from one gender to another.
A four day work week holds the possibility of creating a more equitable workplace by allowing more time to be dedicated to life’s responsibilities outside of work.
This approach could go a long way in allowing women to avoid overwhelm and focus on the priorities in front of them while knowing they will have enough time to give to their other responsibilities as well.
Better employee engagement
Employee engagement is increasingly on the mind of employers, as it has been a hot topic for the last many years.
Unengaged employees have lower job satisfaction, lower company loyalty, and often lower productivity, so it is an important area of focus.
Implementing a four day working week has been shown in multiple trials to boost employee engagement and commitment to an employer by 20%.
Documented trials have also shown no reduction in productivity with a four day working week – in fact there are often improvements to it. When there are fewer hours available in which to complete tasks and projects, workers are better able to stay focused and engaged on the tasks at hand.
Sick leaves and mental health days also see reduced usage because there is ample time already incorporated into the week to take care of wellness activities, manage stress, and fulfill pleasurable activities. All of these factors point to a higher level of engagement from employees during the four days that they are at work.
High ecological impact
If remote working isn’t the ideal option for your company, but you want to take steps to make a positive ecological impact, you should know that a reduced carbon footprint can be a four day work week benefit!
Reducing your work week by one day each week translates to eliminating the effects of a full day’s commute for your workforce. If your four day work week also allows you to shut down your facility on the 5th day, you also reduce all of the energy use associated with the daily operations of your office space.
Things like lights, computer use, cooling and heating systems, etc. aren’t needed in the same way for an empty building as they are for a building full of staff, so your company’s negative impact can be reduced by around 20%.
Incorporating a four day work week can have a positive ecological impact in addition to its many employee and productivity benefits.
What are the downsides of a 4-Day Work Week?
Like all changes, there are negatives to the adoption of a four day work week that fall alongside the positives.
Complex to implement
Changing something as fundamental as the number of days work is divided over throughout a week is not a simple task. It is bound to impact areas across all departments and management levels, making the implementation of a four day work week quite a complex undertaking.
Factors to consider specifically include scheduling, policies, communication, and client/customer expectation management among others.
Communication is a key factor in the rollout of a four day work week and using multiple methods can be really beneficial in ensuring understanding.
Using video and graphic communication tools during the planning and implementation can help the process be better understood. Resources like Snagit make it quick and easy to add these tools to you communication protocols and help maximize effectiveness.
Increased pressure with deadlines
There are two angles to consider here. One is employee perception and the other is client/customer behavior. Both of these, though, can be managed through good communication and thorough consideration of all variables during the initial planning and implementation stages.
Employees can find themselves stressed when trying to meet the same expectations and fulfill the same outcomes with one day less – which may or may not allow fewer hours to work within.
Before the full integration of the four day work week has been adapted to, employees may feel higher pressure; feeling as though the ask to reach the same outcomes in less time is a net negative.
Customers/clients who do not work on the same schedule as your team may contribute to feelings of increased pressure, as a message requiring quick response may be sent on a day your team doesn’t work.
Returning to that might not feel good if expectations and communication about this specific thing have not been clearly articulated or understood.
Simply communicating with your customers/clients about the schedule and integrating OOO messages or signature line additions can help them understand what they can expect as far as response times. This can take the weight off of your employees as well.
Doesn’t work with every industry
Of course, your specific industry may not be a fit for the integration of a four day work week.
Doctors, nurses, and teachers, for example, would create a lot of negative ripples for their communities by reducing their working days.
Other industries as well like personal support work, developmental support work, and some types of manufacturing could require significant shifts to how they operate in order to switch to working four days a week.
This way of working can be greatly beneficial but it is not universally appropriate.
A few statistics on the 4 Day Work Week
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 15% of organizations now offer four-day work weeks to some of their employees. This is an increase from the 13% reported in 2017.
USA Today tells us that 67% more jobs on Ziprecruiter mention four day work weeks than last year.
A four day work week is the preference of 40% of U.S. workers according to Workforce Institute at Kronos.
On a typical workday, the average office worker in the UK is productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes as reported by Vouchercloud.com. When we apply the 20% increase in productivity tied to many four day work week trials, these employers could see a significant bump to productivity.
Even in 2018, 66% of workers surveyed by Robert Half wanted a compressed workweek but only 17% of their employers offered the option.
Based on a study from July 2020, 75% of American workers were experiencing burnout.
Based on the current studies of the four day work week, the approach could help to reduce that unfortunately high number.
In 2021, the average U.S. worker worked about 38.7 hours per week according to the website Balancethemoney.com.
When Perpetual Guardian introduced a four day work week, their staff reported a drop in stress levels – from 45% prior to the change, to 38% following the change.
A four day working week helps to attract talent. According to a Henley Business School white paper, 63% of UK employers report this to be true.
Is the 4 Day Work Week a good fit for your company?
The four day work week is not necessarily the right fit for all businesses and all situations.
For those it does fit with though, the benefits of a four day work week are plentiful. There are a lot of factors to consider when you are thinking about making this shift.
Your business model and industry
A four day working week isn’t realistic for all business models and all industries.
If your work relies heavily on customer interaction, has a high care component, or counts on an impeccably calculated quota being met over the traditional five day model, a compressed work week may not be for you.
If your work is more related to technology than humans, if most high impact tasks are performed on a computer, and if outcomes are more important than hours worked, then the shift to a four day work week could work quite well.
Would it be profitable?
Like any major business decision, profitability needs to be addressed.
Be sure to consult with the right departments and the right members of leadership to get a full picture of the implications that switching to a four day work week could have.
Use the initial conversations on the topic to help determine what areas may require some creative thinking to make profitability possible.
In workplaces that rely on time being directly exchanged for money, profitability may pose a significant challenge when considering the shift to woking four days a week.
One size doesn’t fit all
There is no one universally effective approach to the flexibility and other benefits created by the four day work week, so be careful not to box yourself in to that single approach.
There are many ways to incorporate flexibility and better work-life balance for your employees without creating negative impacts for your customers or your bottom line.
Determine what the desired end result is and work toward a solution that gets you there – it may not be as simple as cutting out one day a week.
Ask your stakeholders
Bring a range of stakeholders into the conversation!
Hearing from people that are involved with the work, whether internally or externally, will help you start off knowing a wide variety of perspectives and implications.
Challenges you may never have thought of, as well as benefits that might not have crossed your mind, could be brought to light by engaging a broad group of stakeholders.
Ask your team
Bring your team into the conversation as early as possible. An activity that is partly meant to boost morale and create a new and better normal for your employees should definitely include their perspective.
Whether positive or negative, the implications of the change to a four day work week will be largely felt by this group and if you don’t have their buy-in from the get go, snags and difficulties might be harder than necessary to manage.
And of course, if no one actually wants a four day week, but would prefer a different approach to flexibility and balance, that is a good thing to know before venturing too far down this road!
How to implement the 4 Day Work Week?
Deciding whether or not the four day work week is a viable option for your workplace is an important step but it is far from the last one!
There are a lot of considerations to make when implementing the four day work week. Two of the primary ones are a focus on outcomes over hours and the maximization of time.
Switch to “Outcome-based thinking”
This can be one one of the biggest challenges for companies that shift to working four days a week.
It is much more common to equate productivity with hours worked than it is to equate it with outcomes and that is a necessary mindset shift for any business looking to become a four day work week company.
Understand your outcomes
Implementing a four day work week requires clarity of expectations above all else.
Ambiguity leaves room for misinterpretation and unmet outcomes and should be strategically eliminated.
Setting deadlines, assigning tasks and responsibilities to the correct individual, and clearly defining what the end product / result should look like or accomplish are non-negotiables for making the shift to a four day work week.
Using visuals in your communication can help to make sure the outcomes are clearly provided to all parties involved. A quick video or mockup can go a long way in getting everyone on the same page.
Micromanagement is a detriment to literally every good quality associated with the four day work week.
It fosters burnout, anxiety and low job satisfaction and is almost always a waste of time. The only outcome it works toward is control.
To make sure you have sufficient information about how the work is progressing, you can incorporate progress reports into workflows or as a standing agenda item in regular meetings.
Ensure you hired the right skills
Having the right skills working in the right roles and trained well is even more important when we are looking at a four day work week.
If your team isn’t equipped with the skills necessary to reach the outcomes you have established, the transition won’t go well.
It can be helpful to evaluate for upskilling and training needs at regular intervals so that you don’t run into situations where the right skills are not available.
Promote open communication
Although the culture around the four day working week places high value on autonomy, it is still very important for you to be available to your colleagues and your direct reports.
Empathetic communication from you will result in open communication from them when they run into a problem or are having difficulty adjusting to this new way of working.
Likely, this open communication will need to start with the leader in order to be fully realized and participated in across the company.
Maximize everyone’s time
It stands to reason that maximizing everyone’s time is a key component of successfully transitioning to one day less “in the office” each week. That can be easier said than done, so here are some ideas to get you started off well.
Cut the unnecessary meetings
The “this meeting could have been an email” meme didn’t come out of nowhere.
There is no shortage of time wasted in meetings that are not necessary, not well run, or not designed for a specific purpose.
Any meeting time used, particularly when working within a four day work week structure, should hold a specific stated purpose, and be strictly kept to fulfilling that purpose. Any issues that can be handled in another way, should be.
If you’re scheduling a meeting to share a status update, present data or any other one-way share of information, record a video in a tool like Snagit instead.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
In the event that you have deemed a meeting necessary, make sure that you are as prepared as possible to lead the meeting, of course, but let’s also go one step further with that. Give your team everything they will need to be prepared as well.
What might this look like? Providing a stated goal and agenda at the time of booking, providing any preparatory documents in advance and advising that they should be reviewed prior to the meeting, and making sure that the only people there are the ones who need to be there.
Appoint a facilitator
When you’re trying to maximize the outcomes met within a four day working week, it is good practice to assign a facilitator for meetings.
Their function is to guide the meeting along, keeping everything on track. They should be equipped to end circling conversations or “parking lot” discussions and keep the activities running on time.
Time-box your activities
Time boxing your meeting is a strategy that helps your group to keep moving and also helps them get straight to solution mode.
You can do this by assigning an amount of time to each item on your agenda and making that time as tight as possible – just enough or even a bit less than you think is reasonable.
This helps instill a feeling of intensity that can help the brain kick into top gear right off the hop. This is a great way to make sure your meeting hits its target outcome within its assigned amount of time.
Groupthink is what happens in an open brainstorming session – all of the participants, at least the extroverted ones, are working simultaneously on finding a solution. This can leave out some less confident members of the team and also your introverted colleagues.
Instead, try implementing a silent solution time where attendees have a set amount of time to write down their ideas to handle the problem at hand and then they all get collected.
This reduces time spent discussing and circling issues and makes sure you actually get input from all team members, improving the chances of the right solution being found and no further meeting being needed on the topic.
End each meeting with a decision
Your agenda should always include a section of time at the end of the meeting that will be used to confirm the meeting’s results and review any next steps and action items.
This will help to make sure that everyone leaves knowing exactly what they are responsible for and how the problem is being solved.
This way everyone can leave the meeting knowing exactly what needs to happen next, with no time wasted revisiting or asking unnecessary questions.
Create and share meeting minutes
In a four day work week company, meeting minutes are even more important than in the traditional work structure because they provide a tangible record of the decisions and outcomes of the meeting.
They serve as a way for attendees to revisit action items and next steps without taking up the amount of time required for a back and forth communication with colleagues to find the answer.
This is another place where Snagit can be of great use – meeting minutes don’t have to be just text documents. You can easily incorporate screengrabs from your presentation deck, make annotations to highlight certain points, add text, and link out to other resources – get a free trial right here!