Is switching to a 4-day work week beneficial for business growth?
Years ago, the idea of giving employees an extra day off each week for the same salary seemed impossible. But there is no denying that this trend is beginning to gain traction: from New Zealand to Spain to the United States, the idea of a four-day workweek is gaining popularity, especially as technology increases productivity and efficiency, and many employees feel burned and exhausted. In a 2021 Harvard Business Review global survey, 89% of respondents said their work life was getting worse. That same study found that 85% of those surveyed said they had lower levels of well-being and 62% said they had experienced burnout during the pandemic.
In our Restoring Normal 2022 research, there was overwhelming support for more flexible work schedules in the future. Seventy-six percent of executives or senior managers said employee contracts should focus more on meeting business needs than hours worked. In this same group, 74% of C-level executives or managers say employers should review the length of the workweek and the number of hours’ employers are expected to work. Support remains high for managers and employees as well.
Although the four-day workweek has been all the rage in recent months, the idea is not new: In 1930, the famous British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that people would only work 15 hours in 100 years (d 2030). Several years later, then the Americans. Vice President Richard Nixon said he expects a transition to a four-day week soon. “It’s not just daydreaming or pointless bragging,” he said. “These are just projections of the [recent] gains we’ve made.”
Around the world, companies large and small are experimenting with the idea of a four-day workweek. In New Zealand, consumer goods company Unilever is halfway through its 12-month trial of a shorter workweek. In March, Spain Cleaning became one of the first countries in the world to test the four-day work week in a pilot project involving several dozen companies. In 2022, the Kickstarter fundraising company will begin testing the four-day workweek with its employees. When the pandemic hit, social media planning company Buffer launched its own four-day workweek, giving employees an extra day off each week without taking a cut in pay. The company launched the experiment on a whim and may never have a full five-day workweek again.
The discussion about reducing time spent at work comes at a crucial time when companies have begun to seriously debate the future of work. It’s not just time spent at work. Companies have begun to question the value of their physical office space as the world prepares for a post-pandemic reality. Some have switched to a permanent remote working mode, while others have opted for flexible hours.
The debate over the four-day work week is just one part of discussions about the future of work. Read what proponents and opponents of the four-day workweek have to say about the concept.
This was certainly the conclusion that one of my clients recently realized. In the midst of the pandemic, I received a call from a C-level leader who was concerned about the dynamics of a senior leadership team that he had put together just before workplaces closed. It was an impressive collection of executives, all with vast technical knowledge and years of experience.
Advantages of a shorter workweek
According to a report by The Atlantic, people who work four days a week say they are healthier, happier and less pressed for time, and their employers say their employees are much more focused and efficient. In fact, when employees feel that their employer cares about them, 94% of employees have a positive sense of well-being, according to one study. The optimal amount of intense cognitive work time is no more than four hours a day, according to research.
Here’s what proponents of the four-day workweek say are some of the concept’s biggest benefits:
Fewer distractions at work: Andrew Barnes, owner of the New Zealand law firm Perpetual Guardian, launched a four-day work week in 2018. Employees opted to install lockers for their phones, soundproof meeting spaces and cut meetings short. Barnes found that even though workers worked less time, employees spent 35% less time on non-work websites Professional Carpet Cleaning Kensington. Because employees had more time to manage personal and home responsibilities outside of work, non-work responsibilities were much less likely to interfere with the workday.
Longer hours don’t mean more performance: Proponents of shorter work weeks say today’s work environment is increasingly defined by longer hours and an “always on” mentality. But that’s not necessarily the best way to support productivity, according to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The success of companies in saving hours -or days- of the working day is proof of the lack of imagination on the part of managers.
“It’s not about running a sweatshop … it’s more about working smarter,” Diamondback CEO Ben Eltz told The Atlantic. Diamondback cut the workweek by five hours when the pandemic hit, but did not cut pay. The company expected a drop in productivity, but instead found greater efficiency. In a 40-hour week, “it’s very rare for a person to say, ‘I did my job, now I’m going to see how I can help others.’ Testing the four-day work week in Japan, they found that the experiment increased the productivity by 40%.
Improved mental well-being and physical health: Workers who work fewer days a week report a host of positive side effects, ranging from physical exercise to early completion of a master’s program to volunteering to simply finding time to deal with the effects of the pandemic. . This, in turn, has a net positive impact on the productivity of the office worker. “I like to walk…just hang out and let my brain breathe,” Natalie Nagele, CEO of Wildbit, told The Atlantic. The company has a shorter work week.
Parents with children find themselves less stressed, with more time to spend with their family, leading to a more balanced life. Caregivers of elderly parents also have the opportunity to help their loved ones. “One of the biggest factors in people’s level of job and family satisfaction is how many hours they have to work,” Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto who studies life, told The Atlantic. “So cutting it is huge… It would rebalance things for working families.”
Reduce our global carbon footprint: Studies have shown that American employees drive 17% fewer miles on the weekend compared to a weekday. A four-day work week would reduce US carbon emissions by 45 million metric tons, more than the total emissions of the US states of Oregon and Vermont combined. Parents will also have more time to prepare their family’s meals, allowing them to make healthier and more sustainable choices.
Disadvantages of a shorter workweek
Those who oppose the four-day work week make some of the following arguments:
Cost: Those who oppose the four-day workweek point to the cost of hiring employees. In the United States and other countries, full-time employees cost more than their annual salary: Employers also cover the cost of benefits like pensions and health insurance. Employers may not be able to hire more people to cover the reduced work hours. Furthermore, in many countries, workers value higher wages over working fewer days a week or fewer hours. In a 2014 YouGov and HuffPost poll, about 50% of American workers said they would work one more day a week for 20% more pay. Part-time workers were even more likely to get the job.
Equality: If a four-day work week starts to gain traction, one of the biggest downsides could be that it could deepen existing inequalities. Such a concept could deepen existing inequalities between knowledge workers and flexible or manual workers, who are generally paid according to the time spent on the job.
Not all industries can participate: Some industries require a 24/7 presence or other similar programming for optimal flow, making it difficult to implement a four-day workweek. For example, if your business revolves around customer service, detractors noted that dealing with customer issues during the four-day week can be difficult. It can be important for companies to resolve issues on weekdays and weekends, regardless of industry. Ensuring that all areas of the business are covered during the business day may require more planning and forethought.
The risk is costly: Opponents say the most glaring downside to employers is the cost risk associated with a four-day workweek, especially if employees don’t meet job requirements. In a two-year trial of a reduced workweek in Sweden (from 40 hours a week to 30 hours a week), they found increased worker satisfaction, but the experiment became too costly to continue successfully.
Workers may have the same hours anyway: some jobs simply take time to complete, and some jobs may not lend themselves to reduced hours. In a four-day work week experiment in France, they found that workers ended up working the same hours anyway. The only difference? The company had to pay overtime, an additional expense for the company.
Difficult Shift Management – Managing multiple shifts in a four-day work week can be difficult, especially if the business operates 24/7. If these employee leaves are spread out, it can be difficult to organize team meetings and manage projects. Employees may also feel pressured to tune in on their days off so they don’t miss anything important.