The pandemic has transformed the way that millions of people work. Businesses that may have once been reluctant to let employees work from home have had to embrace the concept due to circumstances no one could have predicted. And though they may not have expected to, many have actually found it to be such a positive experience that they’d like to continue it into the future.
Now, the floodgates are open for flexible working. No longer tied to traditional notions of the 9-5, Monday-Friday in the office, many businesses are now trialling new and innovative ways of working—and one such approach is the 4-day work week.
Below we explore the benefits and drawbacks of this way of working, and give some practical advice on how to implement a 4-day work week.
What is a 4-day work week?
There are generally two different approaches to the 4-day work week. The “compressed” work week means that employees work for 10 hours a day over 4 days a week, rather than 8 hours a day over 5 days a week.
The second approach is a shorter working week—so instead of employees working 40 hours a week, their working hours are reduced to 32 hours. Usually, the day off falls on a Monday or Friday so that employees get a three-day weekend. However, businesses can designate any day of the week as “off”, based on your business needs and employees’ preference.
What are the benefits of a 4-day work week?
The employee benefits are pretty obvious: having another day off frees up personal time, which in turn improves work-life balance and reduces stress.
But employees aren’t the only ones who profit from a shortened work week. There are also a host of advantages for employers:
Employees’ productivity may increase
It should come as no surprise that a happier workforce is a more productive workforce. But there is a similarly positive link between fewer work hours and productivity levels, according to research.
For example, in Japan, Microsoft tested the 4-day working week for a month and discovered its employees were happier and productivity increased by 40%!
A likely reason for this is that people are more focused and productive when well-rested. And also knowing that you have fewer hours to complete your to-do list will encourage people to be more efficient with their time, and use software to automate or optimise processes.
It’s easier to attract and retain top talent
Everybody loves a 3-day weekend; bank holidays are always a cause for excitement. Offering this perk to your employees is bound to keep them motivated throughout the week, and motivated, happy employees don’t look elsewhere for jobs.
Plus, the 4-day work week is still a relatively unique offering and can be a great way to get the best talent through the door—and keep them engaged, too.
It can promote gender equality
Research from the Government Equalities Office shows that roughly 2 million Brits are not in employment due to childcare responsibilities and 89% of these people are women. This figure is likely to be even more significant due to the effect of Covid-19 on childcare needs.
A 4-day work week would allow employees to spend more time with their families and better balance their work and childcare commitments, which, in turn, might help to close the gender pay gap.
You may reduce costs
A 4-day work week can help reduce costs for everyone, regardless of how you approach the question of salaries. Maintenance and office running costs, such as electricity and water, would decrease if people weren’t going to the office as frequently—that is, if you choose to keep your office at all. You may even choose to share the cost of your office space with another company, by way of an office timeshare—where another company paid rent for the day you don’t use it.
What’s more, your employees would pay 1/5 less of their commuting costs.
You could lower unemployment rates
In the current climate, a 4-day work week could also offer a lifeline to the economy. The independent think tank Autonomy has suggested that a 4-day week with no loss of pay in the public sector could create up to half a million much-needed jobs in the UK.
What are the drawbacks of a 4-day work week?
Does it sound too good to be true? Maybe…the 4-day work week might not be for everyone or every business:
It doesn’t suit every business model
Some businesses are expected to be online and functioning 24/7, so they would struggle to implement the 4-day work week. And customer service roles focused around responding to customer queries may struggle with this way of working and see a decrease in their output.
It might actually harm productivity
The compressed work week, where employees work for 10 hours a day over 4 days a week, could actually be detrimental to some employees’ productivity. Certain studies have shown that employee productivity is optimal when employees do 6 focused hours of work a day, rather than 8 or more.
It’s an expensive risk
It can be risky to cut out an entire work day or reduce hours and expect productive output to remain constant, or even increase, just like that. It’s important to consider the risks and maybe test the approach before making the switch full-time (more on this below).
How to implement a 4-day work week
Jumping into a 4-day work week without proper planning can be detrimental to business. Here are some steps to help you start moving in the right direction.
Communicate with your team
Communication is key. Find out whether your employees are keen, and ask your team to think about how they would make it work—brainstorm and test different ideas. Involving your employees in the process will also make them more motivated to make it work.
Be clear about your objective
Get clear on your why. Why do you want to change the way your company operates? Do you want to increase productivity? Retention rates?
Make your objective measurable and also motivational, so you can get the rest of the company on board.
Create a flexible work policy
It’s crucial to set out clear guidelines, so employees know how they are expected to work and communicate. Some key things to consider:
- What working hours will be
- Whether you’ll prescribe a set day off or let employees decide
- If there will be any changes to pay or expenses
- Whether there will be any changes to holiday allowance—a rule of thumb leave allowance is calculated by multiplying the number of days worked a week by 5.6. A 5-day week entitles 28 days’ annual leave a year. So, someone doing a 4-day week would be entitled to 4 days x 5.6 weeks = 22.4 days.
Consider a trial before making it permanent
Doing a one-month trial allows you to iron out any issues that might arise and you can adjust your flexible work policy accordingly. Or you might decide at the end of the month that it’s not for your business. Crucially, employers can make these decisions before committing the company to any expensive or legal work.
Test a part-time approach
You might consider offering a 4-day work week for specific weeks or months during the year. For example, Basecamp has “summer hours” where they offer a 4-day work week from May to September.
Successful companies that have implemented a 4-day work week
New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian conducted a 4-day work week trial over 2 months. Working hours were reduced to 32 for the week without reducing employees’ pay.
At the end of the trial, employees, in general, reported much better work-life balance, job satisfaction and health as well as less job stress. Given the positive results and feedback from their team, they decided to adopt the schedule full-time.
Buffer experimented with a 4-day work week back in May; their objective was to help employees manage the stress and changes to routine caused by the pandemic.
They carried out a survey to measure the impact, and the results showed higher autonomy, lower stress levels, and improved work happiness.
After the success of the trial, they decided to continue the 4-day work week until the end of the year, at which point they will evaluate the data and decide how to proceed.
Closer to home, many British businesses are also trialling the 4-day work week, with hopes to get the same level of output in fewer hours of work.
One such UK-based company is Ninety, who started running a 4-day week in November 2020. Michelle, their Delivery Operations Manager, gave us an update on how it’s going:
“Having a 4-day week had been something of a hot topic among the team even before Covid. We have found that it has been warmly received and we’ve had many of the team relish the opportunity to enjoy a 3 day weekend whether that means they spend it on personal development, side hustles or just chilling out.
On the flip side, as we get busier and client commitments accumulate, it has certainly put the spotlight on the amount of time we spend on internal activities. It’s a little difficult to let go of some of the cuddlier sides of our culture, which are evident in our meeting heavy diaries. We do hope that these interactions, although fewer in number, will be more meaningful and we’ll keep our essence. I think time will tell and we’re continuing to hear the teams thoughts and suggestions as we move forward.”
So, is a 4-day work week right for your business?
It depends! There is no simple answer to whether a 4-day work week will be the right fit for your business because ultimately, every business is different.
But the world of work is changing, and employers need to remain open-minded if they want to keep an engaged and productive workforce.
Find out how your team want to work in the future
The best way to find out whether a 4-day work week is the right fit for your business? Ask your team how they want to work in the future. To help you do exactly that, we’ve created the free-to-use Workplace Strategy Tool, designed to give you instant actionable insights on which workplace solutions are right for your business.
With the tool, you’re able to easily survey your own team using our curated questionnaire, access the data immediately via your own personalised results dashboard, and get free, professional advice on the best next steps from our team of experts. Head to the link below to get started!