Once an oddity in the cubicle world, the remote/hybrid work model is gaining a significant foothold in the job market. And now that the pandemic has opened the floodgates to flexible work schedules, it seems we’re ready for another twist—a 4-day workweek.
Or are we?
When Henry Ford doubled the pay of his employees to $5 and trimmed work time from 8 to 9 hours per week, he raised a few eyebrows. Twenty years later, the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act sealed the deal and paved the way to the 40-hour workweeks we all love… to hate.
But a model T is no Tesla, and the Industrial Revolution’s way of work is starting to feel a little musty. So, let’s take a look at what the alternative has to offer.
🚀 Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek
Improved Mental Health and Reduced Stress
Everybody needs a break once in a while. No matter how much you love your work, sufficient time to reset is a prerequisite for job satisfaction. Or at least that’s what the research says.
A two-year study by the University of Iceland conducted in 2015 found that employees who temporarily switched to a 35-hour workweek experienced lower stress levels and burnout.(1)
While the study was one of the first of its kind, it set the stage for further scrutiny.
Last year, 61 organizations in the UK signed up for the “Four-Day Workweek” pilot study that aimed to measure the impact of reduced working hours (with the same pay).
The majority of employees (71%) said they experienced lower levels of burnout and 39% admitted that the extra downtime helped them reduce stress.(2)
Who would’ve thought that less time spent at the desk and more downtime for self-care and hanging out with family and friends can actually be a good thing? 🤔
Increased Productivity and Efficiency
Let’s set the record straight. Most of us mere mortals don’t spend the glorified 8 hours on deep, productive work. That just doesn’t happen (sorry not sorry).
Even the high achievers who rock insane daily schedules spend way fewer hours on work-related activities than they claim. So, how much do we actually work?
According to the 2019 The State of Work Life Balance study by RescueTime, the typical knowledge worker spends an average of 2 hours and 48 minutes on productive activities. The remaining 5 hours? Well, let’s just say we burn it tending to less important matters.
💬 “The rest of the day is spent on neutral activities (1 hour and 6 minutes) and distracting activities (1 hour and 12 minutes). In fact, on average, 21% of the workday was spent on entertainment, news, and social media.”The State of Work Life Balance by RescueTime(3)
So, shouldn’t we just all stop slacking and get back to work?
Well, studies have shown that an average worker can be productive (read: stay focused) for 3-5 hours tops.(4) If that’s not a blow to the 8-hour workday monolith, we don’t know what is.
The 4-day workweek can be a great productivity driver since it compresses the typical weekly load into just four days. It also reduces the time employees sit around doing (mostly) nothing.
And that seems like a win-win for everybody involved.
Improved Work-Life Balance
Work-life-balance is one of those catchy terms that gets tossed around social media a lot. The consensus is that we all need it, but getting there is a whole different game.
🧘♂️ While the “balance” part may have a different tinge for everybody, work-life balance simply the ability to prioritize work obligations and personal life with little conflict or spillover between the two.
Now, that’s easier said than done in a hyperconnected world, especially since COVID pushed work right into our living rooms and bedrooms. After all, when your office is just a flip-flop-throw away, it’s frustratingly difficult to unplug and call it a day.
An extra day off can make a world of difference and help draw the line between work and personal life. It also leaves you with more time to relax and recharge batteries.
In a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 62% of employees who worked a 4-day workweek reported surprise, surprise, an improvement in their work-life balance.(5)
We’re all guilty of spending the weekends catching up on work. But with a 4-day workweek, you may finally be able to find the time for your pastimes, binge-watching Netflix included.
Who said that extra time off has to be a life-changing experience?
But even with the apparent positive outcomes, there are a few caveats.
👎 Challenges of a 4-Day Workweek
Ebbing Productivity and Revenue
While the 100-80-100 model—100% pay for 80% time, 100% productivity—is appealing to employees, some employers balk at the idea and fear dwindling output and revenue.
Most studies so far support shorter workweeks, but some companies who jump on the bandwagon may not be able to replicate the success. Loss of momentum, lower engagement, and a bump in prices of goods and services are just a handful of concerns.
At the end of the day, the adoption of a shorter workweek will depend on the industry, the company, and the willingness of everybody involved to balance profit and social responsibility.
Challenges with Scheduling and Staffing
Implementing a 4-day workweek is also a significant management challenge from the scheduling and staffing perspective, especially in industries where shift work reigns supreme.
⏰ According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 7.2 million people worked night shifts and 22.9 million employees had to spend their weekends at work in 2022.(6)
Fields like healthcare, customer support, transportation, and hospitality often require constant round-the-clock staffing and work on the weekends. From taking care of patients in hospitals to transportation logistics, these industries can’t just hit the brakes and hope for the best.
At the end of the day, the move to a 4-day workweek will be a balancing act between the employees’ wellbeing, profitability, and the cost and availability of products and services.
Resistance to Change
Now that we’ve finally caught a whiff of the sweet freedom that comes with a shorter workweek, the question is whether we’re ready for another historic disruption.
It took over 60 years—and many violent protests—to transition from Post-Industrial Revolution 80-hour workweeks. Although the current shift seems to be accelerating, it’s still in its infancy.
A 2022 survey by Qualtrics found that 46% of managers and 53% of senior leaders anticipate a dip in sales. The results are similar when it comes to predicting employee productivity.(7)
This shows that shaking up the existing workplace culture needs to happen on several planes.
We need to find the right balance between productivity and rest, create a schedule that works for both employees and customers, and ensure sustainable economic outcomes down the road.
The good news is, many companies have found significant success with the new model.
🌟 Successful Implementation Stories
In 2019, Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek, giving employees an extra day off for one month. The experiment was a major success, with a 40% increase in productivity.(8)
Of course, cutting the workdays required a few adjustments to the regular schedule, so the company also cut down on meeting time from 60 to 30 minutes.
The employees who took part in the experiment reported better work-life balance and employee satisfaction. There was also a 20% reduction in electricity consumption.
Buffer is a fully remote social media management company with employees from 15 countries collaborating across 11 time zones. After a short trial run in the early months of the pandemic, Buffer permanently switched to a four-day workweek, with impressive results.
Two years after the move, 91% of Buffer employees say they are happier and more productive at work thanks to shorter work hours. Employee retention has also gone up.(9)
While 27% of Buffer employees still work Fridays, the company doesn’t schedule any meetings or conversations and instead lets people focus on catching up on their work.
4 Day Week Global
4 Day Week Global isn’t a singular attempt at implementing a 4-day workweek but a joint initiative of dozens of companies in Canada, Ireland, the UK, and the US.
The mission is simple—measure the impact of a 4-day workweek.
So far, 91% of the companies participating in the study decided to adopt a shorter workweek long term. And for all the good reasons. Participants saw a 35% increase in revenues, higher engagement, 73% greater employee satisfaction, and a 21% reduction in childcare costs.(10)
As noted by 4 Day Week Global founder and CEO Charlotte Lockhart: “The health and well-being of employees also improved, with significant increases observed in physical and mental health, time spent exercising, and overall life and job satisfaction.
🔮 Future of the 4-Day Workweek
Are we ready to adopt a 4-day workweek on a large scale? How will it impact the economy? Can an additional day off truly make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling?
At this point, there are more questions than answers. But one thing is certain—another fundamental paradigm shift is brewing. And we’re yet to see if it’s a slow burn or a rapid boil.
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💬 Frequently Asked Questions About the 4-Day Workweek
How does a 4-day workweek benefit employees?
A 4-day workweek can benefit employees in several ways. It can provide more time for leisure, rest, and personal activities. It can also lead to improved work-life balance, reduced stress levels, and increased job satisfaction. Finally, a shorter workweek gives employees a sense of autonomy and control over their schedules, leading to a more motivated workforce.
How successful is a 4-day workweek?
The success of a 4-day workweek depends on various factors such as the industry, company culture, and work requirements. Some studies have shown that a shorter workweek can lead to increased productivity, improved employee morale, and better work-life balance. However, the effectiveness of a 4-day workweek can vary depending on how it’s implemented.
Is a 4-day workweek the answer to employee burnout?
A 4-day workweek can be a part of the solution to employee burnout, but it’s not a cure-all. Employee burnout is a complex issue that can be caused by various factors such as workload, work environment, and personal life. A shorter workweek can help reduce stress levels and increase employee satisfaction, but it’s not the only solution. Employers also need to provide a supportive work culture to combat employee burnout effectively.
What are the disadvantages of a 4-day workweek?
The disadvantages of a 4-day workweek include the potential for reduced productivity, increased costs, and difficulty in scheduling. A compressed schedule can lead to employee fatigue and lower output, which can affect the bottom line of the business. Additionally, the 4-day workweek may not be suitable for industries that require round-the-clock staffing, such as healthcare and transportation.
How does a 4-day workweek increase productivity?
A 4-day workweek can increase productivity by providing employees with more time for rest, recovery, and personal activities. It can also increase job satisfaction and motivation, leading to a more engaged and productive workforce. Additionally, a shorter workweek can lead to better work-life balance, reducing stress levels, and improving overall health and well-being, which can translate to increased productivity and better performance.