| Sep 8, 2022

How Realistic is a Four-Day Workweek?

Proponents of an extra day off argue that it's a matter of working smarter not harder — and a number of companies have put the principle into practice.

Creating a culture where alone time is sacrosanct, meetings are few and far between, and employees are doing more than just meeting deadlines is imperative to streamlining an office environment that will support one less day a week. According to the nonprofit community, 4 Day Week Global, 63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with the promise of a four-day week. Of those who currently work for companies with a four-day workweek, 78% are happier and less stressed.   

Prior to the pandemic, the four-day workweek was a radical idea. Even now that remote work has become relatively commonplace, it’s still challenging to consider the possibility of working fewer hours during the week while maintaining productivity. However, some early adopters are finding that it not only works, but that it works at a profit.

When It Works

In January 2022, the Edinburgh-based food and drink marketing agency, Lux, became one of the first companies to embrace the four-day workweek. The top key performance indicator for success was whether or not its clients would notice a difference, since the company kept it quiet. They didn’t. If clients didn’t notice, execs reasoned, it must be working. So they followed up by analyzing productivity, the company’s second key performance indicator, and found that it actually increased 24%, with profits rising 30%. 

Lux’s success story isn’t the only one. Microsoft in Japan saw productivity increase to almost 40%, while electricity costs decreased by 23%. Similarly, Iceland trialed a four-day workweek with over 2,500 workers and found that not only did worker wellbeing increase dramatically, but productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces. New Zealand trust management company Perpetual Guardian also announced increased productivity and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance.


When It Doesn’t Work

Like most things, circumstances and context can get in the way of success. For a few companies, a four-day work week wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be. Things such as personality, inability to set boundaries, and working on days off sabotaged employees’ efforts to make the system work. 

For instance, Los Angeles-based marketing research firm Alter Agents found that after 10 weeks, employee satisfaction actually decreased because the extra day off was causing more stress rather than alleviating it. Employees worried about what they were missing in the office, how much work they would be able to get completed, and what was waiting for them when they returned. To address these setbacks, companies with four-day workweeks or those considering the change will not only have to change processes but also mindsets — both of leaders and employees. 

The Ineffective Office

In his book Rework, Jason Fried acknowledges that most office environments are under siege by interruptions, distractions, and the worst of all — meetings. He believes that people actually do their best work in places other than the office, unless their company has taken measures to increase efficiency and streamline processes to minimize office interruptions. He has several suggestions for how to accomplish this:

  • Establish “alone zones.” These are long stretches of alone time when employees are most productive. During these scheduled hours, employees are unavailable for anything but their work — and this includes meetings, emails, instant messages, and phone calls.
  • No-talk Thursdays. This is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying there should be dedicated time allotted for mingling with co-workers and then periods of time when it is understood that work will be done without distracting chit-chat.
  • Use passive communication. When employees do need to collaborate, using passive communication tools like email reduce interruptions since employees can respond when it is convenient rather than being forced to drop everything right away.

Fried says there’s no point to working more than necessary. “Working more,” he writes, “doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more.” If a meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes but only takes seven minutes to accomplish its goal, then that’s all the time that should be spent. Stretching seven minutes to 30 for the sake of scheduling is counterproductive and unnecessary. Organizing time more efficiently in the office means employees get more done in less time. And this opens the door for one less day in the office.

The Final Analysis

So how realistic is the four day workweek? There are some industries that simply cannot accommodate this kind of schedule but for those that can, the statistics look promising. Research indicates that it can be done, and on top of that, 85% of U.S. adults already approve of moving to a four-day week. 

However, in order to make the shift, leaders will need to commit to cultivating an agile work culture, which means changing how they engage employees, provide work stimulation, empower leadership, and command organizational commitment. While the intensity of a workday may necessarily increase, it will negate the benefits if fewer hours equal bigger workloads.  These shifts may challenge skill levels and require employees to level up — but it is the company’s responsibility to provide the resources needed to rise to the challenge. Regular engagement opportunities and a culture of open communication will go a long way to make the four-day work week work.

Jomana Papillo

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Jomana is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Business Psychology and has been a freelance writer for nearly a decade in the areas of science, business, and personal development. view profile


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