Is a four-day workweek becoming a reality? What once seemed like a far-fetched idea is now becoming a possibility, with countries worldwide and states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois touting legislation and incentives for implementing a shorter workweek. Many companies are even exploring what a four-day workweek would look like for them. But does this growing trend have a place in the future of work, or is it still just a pipe dream?
The benefits of a shorter workweek
Studies from around the globe have shown that a four-day workweek positively affects employee performance and health, resulting in greater profitability and higher job satisfaction. Some large companies have found that when implementing ideas like the “Work-Life Challenge” and allowing employees to select the work schedule that suits them best, they see a 40% increase in productivity.
New Zealand-based non-profit 4 Day Week Global conducted the world’s largest four-day workweek pilot program in the U.K. in 2022, with 61 companies and nearly 3,000 employees participating. The results were overwhelmingly positive: 71% of employees in the trial reported less burnout, 39% reported reduced stress levels, and 60% reported better work-life balance. At the conclusion of the original trial period, 90% of participating companies opted to maintain a four-day workweek going forward.
Another trial conducted by 4DWG – with U.S. and Ireland-based companies participating – found that a four-day workweek was beneficial for companies as well as employees. Both productivity and performance improved, and workers reported lower levels of fatigue, stress and burnout. Proponents of the four-day workweek claim that it boosts economic growth, prevents turnover and contributes to a healthier society. On the individual worker level, they claim a shortened week improves employee health, finances and relationships.
Some research has even referenced reduced healthcare costs and medical infrastructure stress as a reason to broaden the scope of these pilots. Such results have led to more companies, states and countries leaning into the concept of the four-day workweek, with some states exploring legislation designed to promote and incentivize experimentation among private and public companies.
The incentives for companies’ participation varies based on the state. Maryland, for instance, would offer participating companies a temporary tax credit. Other states have considered making the four-day workweek an outright mandate to redefine the standard of the 40-hour workweek.
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What would a four-day workweek look like?
There is no exact formula for the structure of the four-day workweek. In fact, most of the trials conducted thus far only require that participating companies pay employees the same salary while meaningfully reducing the number of hours they work.
Some businesses are experimenting with a 32-hour, four-day workweek where employees earn the same salary but also have the same expectations for productivity and output. Other companies are experimenting with a four-day workweek that splits the standard 40 hours into four 10-hour days.
Additional structures include staggering the workforce. This might mean having groups of employees come in on different days and allowing them to choose a schedule that works best for them. Other companies have opted for a rotating schedule, staggering off days to provide coverage for critical events like inventory, deliveries, accounting or other essential production and business deadlines.
How would a four-day workweek impact day-to-day operations?
Every company must determine what works best for their workforce and their organizational structure.
Different departments may need different schedules based on their job responsibilities. For example, back-office roles might be okay with an every-Friday-off schedule, while customer service roles may need ongoing coverage throughout the week. Unique situations may require a different model to be effective.
While determining the shape of the four-day workweek, it is essential that employers consider factors both inside and outside the office that may impact employee productivity. Many employees have family obligations that may make it hard for them to compress a 40-hour work schedule into just four weekdays. Employees with heavier workloads might be concerned about meeting the same deadlines in a 32-hour week when they’re used to a 40-hour timeframe.
However, many proponents of the shift argue the opposite is true. When work is condensed into a shorter workweek – allowing employees more autonomy and personal time – productivity thrives, allowing for the same amount of work to be easily completed in less time.
To create a functioning schedule that works best for the company and its employees, it is essential to have open dialogue, keep the experience positive and stay flexible. As a business and its processes change, so do its people. For a four-day workweek to benefit everyone, it should meet the needs of each area of the company, including departments, leadership, suppliers and customers.
If a four-day workweek is achievable, is it sustainable?
If we can make a four-day workweek a reality across various industries and jobs, is it sustainable long-term? Surveys, studies and pilot programs from around the globe suggest it might be.
The 4 Day Week Global trial reported that 27 of the 33 participating companies chose to maintain the four-day week after their six-month trial ended. Of the 495 employee respondents, 97% expressed a desire to keep the four-day workweek. Other studies in Ireland, the U.S., Japan, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. and Iceland have shown similar results.
While the four-day workweek is still a new trend, positive feedback from recent studies show it may have some staying power – at least in certain industries. Most importantly, companies that want to experiment with a shortened workweek should find the approach that suits their workforce. For some, that may mean being flexible; for others a one-size-fits-all approach might be best. The world we live and work in is constantly changing, and flexibility and adaptability are necessary to make programs like the four-day workweek viable in the long run.