How feasible is a four-day working week?
In short, it depends. There are certainly 4-day work week pros and cons, and what outweighs the other will depend on your company, and how you choose to implement a schedule with decreased hours or days.
There are several examples of the four-day week, or other less than 40 hour week alternatives, being successfully implemented, but if your company needs to respond quickly to business opportunities—as is often the case in sales—then losing a fifth day might not work for you.
Like any major change to your company, you need to understand why you’re making the change, and what the benefits will be.
First, let’s look at some of the success cases where a four-day week has brought positive results to a company:
Following a trial from February-March 2018, Perpetual Guardian made the move to transition its 240 staff to a 4-day week the following November, maintaining salaries but cutting employees’ weekly hours from 37.5 to just 30. The trial itself was monitored by academics at the University of Auckland and the Auckland University of Technology, who found the reduced hours saw the following benefits:
- Productivity was unharmed by the reduced working hours
- Staff stress levels were reduced from 45% to 38%
- Employee work-life balance scores increased from 54% to 78%
- Workers’ sense of empowerment and stimulation increased by 20%
- Staff leadership and commitment levels rose by 22% and 20% respectively
Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, notes in his book “The Four Day Week” that by making productivity the goal of the trial, Perpetual Guardian was able to focus on delivering results to meet this end:
“I’m a businessman. I want a profitable company. The extraordinary equation of the four-day week is that by putting productivity first, and incentivizing staff to do the same, the value ripples beyond the boardroom and the balance sheet to the home lives and personal wellbeing of workers.
“The prioritization of productivity and the secondary outcome of improved work-life balance come with the unique 100-80-100 equation of the four-day week: we give 100 percent compensation for 80 percent time at work on the condition that 100 percent of agreed productivity is achieved.”
Perpetual Guardian knew the outcomes they wanted from the outset and helped facilitate employees to bring about these changes within the 30-hour working week.
“By challenging the employee to conceive ideas for improvements that will maintain and even raise productivity, the company circumvents obvious issues which would hinder productivity improvement,” says Barnes.
Two of the top recommendations in a paper analyzing the Perpetual Guardian test case were:
- Giving employees time to think about how they could work differently, encouraging them to come up with their own measures of productivity
- Encouraging staff to consider how they could organize time off within teams, while still meeting customer and business imperatives. The communication between management and staff enabled an improved workflow, with both sides benefiting from the arrangement.
UK tech company PPC Protect moved to a Monday-Thursday week in 2018, with the move seeing beneficial results in several areas of its organization:
- Average employee productivity increased, with project management software tracking a 16% speed increase in completing tasks
- Reduced stress and improved happiness among staff
- A boost in job applications to the company, meaning open positions got filled quicker than when on the five-day week
With position applications boosted, Co-founder Neil Andrews comments on the interesting phenomenon:
“Not everyone is motivated by money. And, in fact, having a good work-life balance is often preferred. Since switching to a four-day work week, we’ve had more applicants for our vacancies than ever before, with so much positive feedback on our shorter work week. While I understand this model might not be suitable for every type of business, for anyone in the tech space, I certainly think it will become more and more common.”
In August 2019, the Japanese branch of Microsoft conducted the Work-Life Choice Challenge with its 2,300 employees, to provide a reference for work-style reforms with targeted goals and verified results. It was a departure from the 40-hour week, with staff given all Fridays in the month off as paid leave, and Microsoft offering expenses for staff to pursue self-development, meeting with family and social contributions—all as part of their For Work, For Life, For Society approach.
As well as reducing the working hours each week, Microsoft had to think creatively in order to keep productivity high. With a 46% increase in meetings capped to 30 minutes, a 21% increase in remote conferencing, and the amount of human resource exchange up by 10%, workers could more effectively manage time to achieve a near 40% increase in sales over the month.
As well as this staggering improvement, Microsoft also saw the following results:
- Number of prints down 58.7% and power consumption down 23.1%
- 92.1% of staff preferring the changes of the four-day week
- 96.5% of staff agreeing that work-life was improved
- 97.1% of staff agreeing that their personal lives had improved
- 83.5% agreeing that they felt more engaged with the wider society
Microsoft’s efforts to not only reduce the hours in the working week but to enable staff to use their Fridays off in productive ways maximized staff’s fulfillment, demonstrating the importance of putting a premium on employee health.
Alabama based organization Aloha Hospitality offers flexible work hours and a four-day week to its management staff, in recognition of the needs and expectations of a millennial workforce. With a working week that takes the growing trend of employees valuing experiences over belongings into account, Aloha Hospitality aims to increase staff retention, increase morale and promote the sense of team ownership.
And with their reduced working week, more management staff are able to be on the restaurant floor at peak hours, meaning even better customer service.
According to Bob Baumhower, “it’s a win-win for not just our team, but our guests. We want our team to be fresh, energized and focused on a legendary guest experience.”
Statistics from 2019 Henley Business School Study
According to the July 2019 study by Henley Business School, a 4-day work week could save UK businesses an estimated £104 billion per year by reducing bottom lines through boosted productivity and improved employee health. Surveying organizations who have already adopted a 4-day work week scheme, the study found:
- 64% of businesses saw productivity upturns
- 78% of companies reported happier workers, 70% found workers were less stressed, and 62% saw staff taking fewer days off sick.
- 40% of employees said they would use their time off to improve their professional skills
The study also showed an increasing trend of reducing working hours for the same pay, with 34% of business leaders (46% of them in larger businesses) agreeing that making the switch will be instrumental in future success.
Workers are also keen for the change, with 72% backing the four-day week, and with 67% of Gen Z workers saying it would be an important factor in determining who they would work for.
Meanwhile, one estimate suggests that the average US business could save $15,200 a year on facilities if they only used the office for four days of the week, leaving employees with 3-day weekends.
Philadelphia software company Wildbit has been operating a four-day week since 2017.
By putting an emphasis on employees not working on the weekends or at night, and by giving their workers a flexible work schedule they found that their initial transition over summer went smoothly, but in the fall they realized they needed to spread shifts over the week, with some having Mondays instead of Fridays off, as their clients needed full-week support. This is a great example of shifting the 4-day work week concept to fit the needs of your company.
According to Co-founder Natalie Nagele:
“When we reviewed our first year of four-day weeks, we realized we launched more features than the previous year. This surprised us and helped us commit to continuing with the schedule. The real value of a four-day week comes from healthy pressure and forced downtime. Since we know we only have four days to get our work done, we work smarter to avoid distractions and cut through the procrastination [...] and with a three-day weekend, every person is poised to start their work on Monday.”
San Francisco-based company Monograph has implemented a four-day week since its founding. As well as seeing improvements to employee well-being and concentration, CEO Robert Yuen realized his company’s flexible working conditions made the switch to working from home due to COVID a lot smoother. Writing about his experience, he says:
“It’s not so much about time—it’s about output. So if an employee can successfully handle a sufficient workload in four days, what they might have previously produced in the standard five days—there isn’t a strong enough or necessary argument to get employees to work another eight hours.”
The whole of Iceland recently tested out a shortened working week.
The results were overwhelmingly positive, with the wellbeing of employees increasing, while burnout and stress were reduced.
However, it wasn’t specifically a test of a four-day working week; instead, there were two trials with employers choosing to drop to either a 36- or 35-hour week—they could decide if they wanted to reduce the week to four days or just reduce hours on each day.
There were also different outcomes in different sectors. For example, following the trial some public sector staff dropped their hours by just 13 minutes a day, while many shop workers reduced their hours by only 35 minutes per week.
This highlights two things:
Sticking rigidly to the choice between a four-day or five-day week limits your chances of a positive impact you have to be open to altering the work week to fit your company’s needs
Every business/industry is different