Is the traditional five-day workweek on the way out? Hardly.
But the topic is likely to land on the agenda for your company’s leadership team meetings soon, if it hasn’t already. The four-day workweek — once easily dismissed by senior executives — is gaining traction.
“The debate over a four-day workweek is more vibrant now than it has been in years,” says Richard Bird, professor of business law at the University of Connecticut. “With a tight labor market, employees can make greater demands of companies in terms of work and life balance. The desire for a four-day workweek is only one such example.”
Consider the recent six-month global pilot program conducted by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, Cambridge University, and Boston College. Under the terms of the study, 33 companies employing 1,000 staffers in the U.S., Ireland, and Australia had employees work 80% of their normal weekly work schedule for 100% of their regular salary. In return, participating employees agreed to expend 100% of their effort (akin to a five-day workweek) and let the performance and worker experience chips fall where they may.
Four-Day Workweek Success
Of the 27 participating firms that followed through with complete data on the experience, 18 have decided to make a four-day week permanent. Seven more companies say they’re on a glide path to a four-day workweek. The remaining two companies are “leaning toward” a shorter workweek, but haven’t decided yet.
Overall, study employees cited stress reduction, lower burnout, a superior work-life balance, and more robust physical health as reasons they preferred the shorter week.
Meanwhile, participating C-level executives are now bullish on the idea of a four-day workweek. “Staff are more focused, more engaged, and more dedicated, helping us hit our goals better than before the study,” said Jon Leland, chief strategy officer at crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, in a statement. “We’re achieving more as an organization, while giving people time to start new creative projects, rest, and be with their families. It’s a true win-win.”
Of course, many companies have experimented with or fully adopted four-day workweeks long before the 4 Day Week Global pilot program. At Vortic Watch Company, a timepiece manufacturer in Fort Collins, Colorado, “We’ve been on the four-day workweek for over five years now,” says the company’s CEO, R.T. Custer. “The best part about it, besides having every Friday off, is using it as a recruiting tool.”
(Note: For another company’s experiences with a four-day workweek, read Navigating the Shift to a 4-Day Workweek — Insights from Learning Management System Administrate.)
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How a Four-Day Workweek Could Work
Your C-suite discussions about a potential shift to a four-day workweek should challenge assumptions and explore very practical operational challenges.
“The key issue is whether or not a four-day workweek is really feasible,” says Anthony Smith, chief operating officer at Atlas, a direct employer of record in Chicago. “What works for one business or organization may not be successful or feasible for another. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered, including culture of the company, the types of clients, the type of industry, and whether this model is in compliance with local labor laws.”
What kind of company benefits most from a four-day workweek?
“Any company that’s in need of talent and wants to distinguish themselves should be first in line in adopting a four-day workweek to attract talent over rivals,” Bird says. “Firms that operate on a flexible schedule already, and can more readily incorporate a four-day workweek, may be more likely to implement the schedule.”
Conversely, companies that require 24/7 coverage or must operate according to the schedules of others “will be less likely to adopt a four-day workweek,” Bird adds.
If a company decides to go forward with a four-day workweek, expect some operational accommodations to be made. “A company needs to know how to leverage technology and automation to support a four-day model,” Smith says. “It’s important to look at how your talent structures their day. For example, when day four comes around, consider encouraging less client-facing activity to ensure minimal disruption to business.”
Custer expected the four-day workweek to require additional workers to make up for lost production. “Due to the fact that we are a manufacturing company, we initially planned to have a three-day ‘weekend shift,’ but the practice of getting 40-plus hours of work done in four or fewer days made the difference. It really sparked creativity with the team and boosted productivity exponentially on the four-day schedule. A weekend shift hasn’t been necessary.”
Success or failure of a four-day workweek trial at your company can be determined in a variety of ways, Bird notes. “For employers, it may be an increased retention of talent,” he says. “For employees, success should be measured by better work-life balance and reduced stress.”
When implementing the four-day workweek, company decision-makers must hold firm on business objectives. “The way we did that was we ensured everyone knew that five days’ worth of effort and productivity was needed in order to continue year-over-year growth,” Custer says. “We asked the whole team what we could simplify, optimize, and standardize in order to get more done in fewer days.”
The Vortic team incentivized workers to achieve productivity gains within the four-day workweek by offering bonuses to all workers if the company hit shared goals.
“We also let people know early on that if we weren’t able to grow the company in four days a week, we would have to go back to five,” Custer says. “Thankfully, five years in, most of our team still enjoys every single Friday off in perpetuity.”