The Rise of the Four-Day Work Week: Is a Compressed Work Schedule Right for You?

1 Apr 2022

The promise of longer weekends gets most employees all excited.

The perspective of more productive and happier staff gets you wondering if a four-day work week might just be the best employee retention strategy for your company.

And the ultimate solution to productivity and wellbeing at work.

But then, you’re stuck…

On one hand, you have the perspective of more productive, and happier employees.

But on the other hand, you anticipate the impact that those longer hours might have on productivity and their physical health.

Plus, you might start to question whether the compressed work schedule is, indeed, a one-size-fits-all for all types of business models, all industries.

So, is the 4-day work week right for you? Let’s find out!

We’ll go through some of the key questions you should have clear answers to, point out the main pros and cons to consider and list some practical steps you can take to make the 4-day work week… work for you.

What Is a Compressed Work Schedule?

A compressed work schedule is one where employees work the complete workweek (of 35-40 hours usually, spread over 5 days) in a fewer number of days.

They squeeze in, let’s say, 10 hours a day, 4 days a week.

But this is just one possible scenario.

For other employees, a compressed schedule may mean working fewer hours each day (usually 6). And sticking to the 5 day work week.

four-day work week

The Four-Day Work Week Is Gaining Momentum

The compressed work week is already here and gaining traction. Across the globe.

Take, for instance, Iceland’s pilot four-week program (2015-2019), which proved that employees showed lower levels of stress and were less prone to the risk of burnout.

Then let’s pick just one similar “research” conducted by individual organizations themselves.

Like Microsoft Japan, for instance, the “pioneer” of this movement, which tested the four-day week in 2019 and reported an increase of 40% in employee productivity.

Then there’s also Unilever in New Zealand which rolled out a one-year 4-day workweek program.

Or early adopter Buffer, the social media software company, which started implementing a four-day work week back in 2020.

And let’s “end” with the bill to implement the 4-day work week from Dec 2021, introduced by California state Rep. Mark Takano.

In short, we’re witnessing a massive wave of worker-friendly changes all over the world.

But before you can decide whether you should ride the wave of the four-day work week or not just yet, you’ll want to have a clear picture of the key benefits and main challenges to expect.

5 Pros of the Four-Day Work Week

 

It Promotes an Inclusive Workplace

Think of working parents, for instance. As you offer them this type of flexibility in the workplace you create a more inclusive environment for them.

And compressed schedule pilot programs have already proven it.

Take, for instance, Perpetual Garden’s (a financial services company in New Zealand) case study, which showed that switching to a 4-day work week increased participants’ work-life balance by no less than 45%.

It Can Increase Employee Efficiency and Productivity

Let’s go back to some of the four-day work week trials which have already been carried out across the globe. And let’s get down to… data.

Microsoft Japan reported an increase of 40% in their employee’s productivity after running their “temporary 3-day weekend” pilot program in August 2019.

Perpetual Garden, which we’ve already mentioned here, boasted an increase of 20% in productivity after the compressed work week experiment they conducted back in 2018.

A 3-day weekend means more time that your employees can spend with their families, invest in their hobbies, in managing their household, and in other responsibilities outside work.

Which translates into happier and more focused employees. Which further translates into more productivity.

efficient employees

It Helps Create More Sustainable Work Environments

Reduced energy use, a reduced carbon footprint of your business (less commuting, less polluting), enabling employees to make healthier, more sustainable lifestyle choices…

All these benefits stem from implementing a compressed work schedule model across your organization.

They all stem from that one day of not using electricity, not driving to work, and having more time for planning healthy meals and going for greener options of traveling (as they have more time to analyze more sustainable options and to plan everything through).

It Can Cut Costs for Everyone

When it comes to the costs that you’d cut if you gave the four-day work week a try, they go beyond the obvious ones like electricity costs.

Just think of the costs associated with stress, burnout, lack of concentration/motivation, absenteeism. Costs that you’d reduce by helping employees to strike a better balance between their work and their personal lives.

But simply granting them one more day of resting and recharging.

As for the costs that they'd be cutting, they range from their commute to their… lunch expenses. Not to mention the health expenses deriving from fatigue, stress, and burnout.

Health expenses including the sick leaves that you would then reduce by giving people more time to care for themselves.

It Improves Employer Branding, Boosts Recruitment and Retention

Adopting this form of flexibility in the workplace makes such an effective employee recruitment and retention strategy.

A 4-day work week becomes both a valuable perk for attracting new talent as well as a strong reason for people to remain in your company.

For, you know what they say: someone who leaves a company because of the salary might just return for its culture. But the other way around is hardly likely to happen.

In other words, if you create and nurture a culture focused on employees’ well-being and their overall… happiness, you secure their loyalty to your company.

5 Cons of the Four-Day Work Week

To make an informed decision knowing the gains is not enough. You should be well aware of the challenges to expect, too.

Here are the 5 main ones.

It Can Create Shift Scheduling Conflicts

Let’s take this scenario: 90% of the people in your organization want to take their additional days off either on Fridays or on Mondays.

So you end up with some days when you have too many or too few people at the office.

This is where, if you’re a Monday to Friday type of business, or you’re operating in an industry that requires 24/7 presence at the office, things (i.e. shift scheduling) can get a little more challenging.

It Doesn’t Always Lead to Increased Productivity

That is because more hours (in most cases 10 hours a day instead of the usual 8) doesn’t always mean “more things done”.

It can also translate into:

  • A higher level of stress to “squeeze” the same amount of work into a 4-day work week.
  • Fatigue and burnout caused by constantly doing overtime to get things done.
  • Lack of focus, self-efficacy, and productivity over time.

It May Increase Pressure On Employees

As a four-day work week is not a good fit for every business model or industry, it’s not suited to meet all employee’s needs either.

Since a compressed work schedule means less time to get things done and even less time to get things perfect.

Some of them might just value that extra time they give themselves to focus on a project or a task and deliver the level of quality they’re used to.

When you leave them with 4 days to squeeze their work hours in and the perspective of… tackling some tasks a bit more superficially than before, they might feel a bigger pressure hanging on their shoulders.

So they end up doing overtime just to be able to achieve the same results. And getting frustrated when there’s not enough time or not enough brainpower left to reach the same level of performance.

employee checking her watch

It Does Not Fit All Industries

Maybe a 24/7 presence is critical for your own type of business. One that relies on service work and not on knowledge work.

In this case, a compressed schedule might just unleash chaos in your shift scheduling procedures.

Or maybe you’re a large, established organization that doesn’t have the unlimited flexibility of a smaller business to just restructure your entire business to an all-new way of working.

This big step for a start-up might mean a huge and non-viable leap for your organization.

It May Cause Personal Schedule Disturbances

This kind of flexibility in the workplace can turn out to be… sabotaging some of the employees instead.

Take for instance a parent who needs to look after his/her children “after work”, now faced with the challenge of longer work days (usually from 8 to 10 hours a day).

And it’s the same challenge when it comes to other “outside of work” types of activities that they’d now be forced to squeeze into that one extra day off.

To synchronize their compressed work schedule with others’ traditional work schedules.

For instance, you have a doctor's appointment and you work from 9 to 19 now, but he’s available only till 18 PM and is free on your own free Friday.

So we go back to the idea that the four-day work week doesn’t work for all individuals.

And it’s not the perfect fit for all businesses and industries, either.

Should You Give the Compressed Schedule a Go?

If possible, try with a temporary run (a few months) to see how it goes for you.

For yes, adopting a whole new way of working and challenging the traditional belief that correlates success to the number of work hours (and fewer hours of work to laziness) does take courage.

But the thought that you’re just “experimenting” with this whole new way of working will make the shift seem less radical to you.

Start by doing your research on what worked and what didn’t work for other companies in your industry that have already tried it and put together your own productivity policy.

One designed to support a four-day work week within your company.

Then give it a shot.

Tips for Succeeding with the Four-Day Work Week

Here are some real-world tips to help you make this new way of working… work for you:

Formulate Your Goal

First of all, reinforce the idea that “productivity” remains a key goal in your company.

Once that’s clear for everyone, they’ll start focusing more on achieving results than on… counting working hours.

Next, make sure you define, set, and communicate clear goals that should be achievable within a compressed work week.

Understand the Needs of All Stakeholders

And this is one of the biggest challenges: understanding your stakeholders’ needs as you try to figure out whether you do have the resources (and the capacity) to offer this type of flexibility in the workplace and accommodate a 4-day work week.

While doing your research you might just discover that making the switch towards a compressed schedule is not beneficial both internally and externally.

team discussion

Trial the Compressed Work Schedule

As already mentioned, you’ll want to test the waters with a pilot first.

And for many companies, a 90-day pilot program is enough to figure out how to make this new way of working work for them.

Do your research, gather all the information you need from other companies’ experiments with the compressed work week, and plan your trial.

This way, you can gather the feedback and clear data you need to adjust your new work policies.

Ask Your Employees for Feedback

Or better said: design, then further revise and improve your new system together with your employees.

Let them participate in creating all the new policies you’ll need to set in place to make sure the compressed work schedule is manageable for them and a success for you.

Consider Part-Time Workers

As you’re starting to plan your new policies and workflows, you might be facing challenges like accommodating peak hours, customer needs, and different operational demands.

To cope with these challenges, consider staggering work schedules: part-time employees might just be a solution for you to put on the list.

Automate Where Possible

Adopting a 4-day work week is about taking a hard look at all your workflow processes and doing what needs to be done to improve operational efficiency.

This could be deprioritizing, automating work activities, and even… dropping some of the superfluous ones.

And this goes hand in hand with shifting from a mindset that empathizes work to one that focuses on efficiency and results.

Note! To all these tips, you’ll want to add clear communication and positive leadership to maximize your own compressed work week model’s chances for success.

Ready to take it from here?

Then the very first step should be taking a survey.

Collect feedback to see:

  • If your employees even want a four-day work week
  • What their preferences are
  • What challenges they anticipate and their own ideas on how you could address them

It’s only then that you should move forward and start planning your shorter workweek trial. Good luck! 

Topics: Office of the future, Human resources

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