Four-Day Work Week: Dream Come True or Too Good To Be True?

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Culture

April 26, 2024

Four-Day Work Week: Dream Come True or Too Good To Be True?

Is a four-day working week the secret to better work-life balance and productivity? It’s a tantalising idea that’s been gaining momentum lately, but before you start packing up your desk on Fridays, weighing the pros and cons is crucial. In this article, we’ll explore the exciting possibilities and potential drawbacks of this new trend and help you decide whether it’s right for your business.

But the number of variations of the four-day working seems to grow exponentially. Is it squeezing a classic 40-hour working week into four days? Is it reducing the overall working week to 35 hours? Or the latest addition to the conversation…is it employees spending four days in the office in exchange for Fridays off?

Each option boasts its own range of advantages and disadvantages, suiting some industries better than others, so for the purposes of the blog, only 40 hours in 4 days will be discussed, referred to as a four-day workweek from here on out. But keep an eye out for our next blog tackling the reduction to 35 hours.

 

Four-Day Working Week

The buzz around the four-day workweek has skyrocketed following the remarkable success of the UK’s latest large-scale pilot in February, with many referring to this version as the ‘holy grail’ of work-life balance. Among the 60-plus companies that participated, 92% of employers said they would continue with a shorter workweek, and 30% made the change permanent. Employers on the trial said that both productivity and output were increased; Claire Daniels, CEO of Trio Media, stated:

‘When people enjoy having an extra day off, that creates better work-life balance, which, in turn, makes people happier and less stressed.’

The majority of companies in the study saw positive results, including increased productivity and output, and many have made the change to a shorter workweek permanent. This supports the long list of international studies finding similar.

 

Work-Life Balance & Productivity

Companies worldwide have shown that the four-day workweek can transform employees’ work-life balance, making it a highly sought-after option. This is especially true in industries where overworking is common such as tech. Burnout from meeting deadlines can harm productivity, but some studies suggest a shorter workweek can remedy this. Increasing time for personal pursuits, socialisation, and relaxation can improve work-life balance, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being, increasing both higher job satisfaction and productivity. Simply Business within the UK introduced the four-day workweek back in 2019 and supported these conclusions by reporting increased productivity and improved employee well-being. Evidence within the groundbreaking UK study discussed above also demonstrated that, on the whole, productivity increased or at least remained stable. Globally, there are multiple studies supporting this hypothesis, including a study in Iceland in 2021, where a shorter workweek found increases in both well-being and productivity.

However, it’s important for business leaders to note that the four-day workweek may not necessarily lead to increased productivity and profits. Often stable productivity is reported and considered a positive result. Take the New Zealand financial services company study, which reported improved work-life balance, reduced stress, less absenteeism, and no drop in productivity. So before jumping on the bandwagon, business leaders should first consider their goals and purpose. Even in Microsoft Japan which reported a 40% increase in productivity, there was no direct increase in profits. This is not a criticism of a four-day workweek; after all, a happier workforce is never a bad thing, but merely a reminder to assess the core purpose before acting.

 

Recruiting & Retention

The four-day workweek can be a game changer for companies struggling with talent recruitment and retention. In industries like technology, where skilled workers are in high demand, offering an attractive perk like this could make all the difference. Offering a four-day workweek could be an attractive perk that sets a company apart from its competitors, evidenced by a survey conducted by YouGov found that 60% of respondents in the UK would prefer a four-day workweek. Similar is mirrored globally, with Perpetual Guardian reporting a 30% increase in job applications. Given UK businesses spend £4.13 billion a year covering high staff turnover costs, anything that increases recruitment and, most importantly, retention is an important consideration for business leaders. 

 

Unintended Consequences & Risks

The four-day workweek may sound like a dream, but working longer hours in fewer days can lead to intense workdays, negatively impacting work-life balance. So, while the idea of fewer workdays is appealing, it’s important to consider the drawbacks that come with it.

Adopting a four-day workweek may seem like a stress-free solution, but it can actually increase workload and pressure, leading to burnout and stress. A South Korean study of over 2,500 employees found that those working longer hours had poorer mental health and higher burnout rates. The study revealed a link between extended working hours and an increased risk of anxiety and depression symptoms, which can negatively affect both the individual and the company.

Similarly, an engineering company in the UK, Allcap, adapted the four-day workweek to offer one day off fortnightly. Even with this adaption, the CEO found:

‘As opposed to 10 normal workdays we found that employees would have nine extreme ones – once they got to their scheduled day off they were exhausted.’

Evidently, industry and sector-specific factors must be considered prior to implementing a change as the four-day workweek is inherently unsuitable for certain industries. All of this can contribute towards reduced output.

 

Organisational Context & Culture

The benefits and drawbacks of the four-day workweek are equally supported by evidence and case studies, making it a complex issue for business leaders to navigate. It all comes down to organisational context and culture – what works for one company may not work for another. The key is to understand each organisation’s unique baseline productivity and work-life balance to determine whether the four-day workweek is a good fit. In every study, the increase/decrease of productivity is all based on that organisation’s baseline productivity making it incredibly difficult to draw far-reaching conclusions.

 

For instance, if an organisation already has an overly intense five-day workweek with high attrition rates and burnout, the benefits of transitioning to a four-day workweek are likely to be significant. However, in an organization where flexible working hours are already established, implementing a four-day workweek could limit employees’ flexibility and undermine their work-life balance. Thus, business leaders must carefully consider their organization’s particular circumstances before making any decisions.

 

Difficulty in implementation

Implementing a four-day workweek can be difficult and may require significant changes to processes and procedures. Smikle conducted a study into the challenges that employers may face from implementing a 4-day workweek finding two key areas to consider:

  1. Employers may struggle with workload management
  2. Employers may also face challenges in scheduling and managing staff as employees may have different schedules and days off

The core way to mitigate these was by involving employees in decision-making and implementing flexible scheduling options.

Implementation could also be challenging culturally; for example, in countries where working long hours is seen as a sign of dedication and commitment, it may be difficult to convince employees and employers alike to embrace a shorter workweek. Similarly, in cultures where hierarchical structures and traditional work patterns are deeply ingrained, it may be challenging to introduce new ways of working. Given the changes to organisational processes, procedures, and mindsets potentially required to introduce such a change, ensuring this is the right decision for every organisation is essential.

 

Conclusion

In the world of business, there are rarely any silver bullets. While the four-day working week may seem like a game-changer, it’s crucial to remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Organisations must take into account a multitude of factors and assess what they’re overarching purpose is.

But fear not! There are other options available. If work-life balance is the primary goal, then a six-hour workday could be the perfect solution. And if increased productivity and profits are what you’re after, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and tackle the root cause of the issue.

In the end, it all boils down to what works best for your organisation. Perhaps a flexible hours model is the way to go. Whatever the case, the key is to be open-minded and explore all possibilities. After all, as the saying goes, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’

If you want to discuss the suitability of the four-day workweek within your organisation, just give us a call. 

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