The 4-day workweek is likely one of the most successful work schedules that I have implemented in my career in terms of employee engagement, employee development, team readiness, and employee delight. Put simply, employees love 3-day weekends, and these can be created by a 4-10 work schedule. Let me explain.
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Years ago I ran a 24x7 operation with a central station and monitored services worldwide. We experimented with many different shift types and schedules. The worst of all schedules was the 3x12s, where a worker spends three days at work in 12-hour shifts, and barely has time to get home and get rested before they return to work; they were tired, angry, sleepy, error-prone, and not fit for work after a series of these challenging 3x12s. However, the 4x10s were almost magical. To cover our 7-day schedule, we overlapped two 4x10s, where every employee worked one weekend day. Employees could choose to work from Sunday through Wednesday, or Wednesday through Saturday. We used Wednesdays as team training days, employee development days, and planning days. Our team was so trained up, so communicative based on being together on Wednesdays, that it ignited the creativity, collaboration, and goodwill of our team members. They were also highly grateful for the addition of the regular 3-day weekends to their schedule. I don’t think I’ve had a happier group of employees than those who were on the 4x10 schedule. Importantly, this saved us money (in terms of office space) and gave us great flex capacity to expand work with multiple shifts of well-rested and highly trained employees. That was my experience and I highly recommend it for consideration to others. Now, what does independent research say about the 4x10 work week?
Some businesses in the UK are currently experimenting with operating on a 4-day workweek. Spurred on by The 4 Day Week Campaign, businesses such as the Earth Science Partnership, Social Enterprise Direct, and The UPAC Group (Scotland's largest independent packaging supplier), have all implemented 4-day workweek standards (The4DayWeek, n.d.). Are these businesses venturing into the unknown, or is there data that supports a shortened workweek? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the 4-day workweek? What should managers and business leaders consider when implementing or leading shortened workweeks? Continue to find out.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” - Winston Churchill
Defining a 4-day workweek
In order to examine the effects of a 4-day workweek, we must first have a clear definition of a 4-day workweek. The 4 Day Week Campaign defines a 4-day workweek as “a 32-hour working week (or less) worked over 4 days with no reduction in pay.” For The 4 Day Week Campaign, a 4-day workweek is not 4 days of 10-hour shifts. However, not all organizations look at the 4-day workweek the same way. For example, companies in Japan are encouraged to allow their employees to work 4, 10-hour days (Harter &Pendell, 2021). This is an important difference to consider when examining the available data and considering the implementation of a 4-day workweek.
Below we review some of the key data points and statistics regarding a 4-day workweek.
Henley Business School UK 2019
⅔ of businesses with a 4-day workweek “reported improvements in staff productivity”
⅓ of business leaders believe that switching to a 4-day workweek will be “important for success in the future”
¾ of surveyed Brits support a 4-day workweek
67% of Gen Z Brits claim that when job searching, the proposition of a 4-day workweek, would “help them pick a place to work”
4-day workweeks “could save UK businesses an estimated £104 billion annually”
Increased productivity via increased staff mental and physical health
A 4-day workweek can reduce environmental output
78% of staff state that they are happier with a 4-day workweek
70% of staff experienced reduced levels of stress
62% of staff took fewer days off due to illness
63% of employers said that having a 4-day workweek “has helped them to attract and retain talent”
25% of employees stated that they would use their extra day off to volunteer
40% of employees would use the extra time off to “up-skill or develop professional skills”
72% of survey participants said that a 4-day workweek would be a “firm driver” when job searching
The 4-day workweek does not increase employee engagement
The 4-day workweek is associated with an increase in “thriving wellbeing”
“The percentage of actively disengaged workers was highest for those with 4-day and 6-day work weeks”
Quality of workplace experience has “2.5 to 3 times the impact” on “overall wellbeing” than the “number of days or hours worked” (Harter & Pendell, 2021).
Note: these statistics are based on organizations that work at least 35 hours per week during a 4-day workweek
Society of Human Resource Management
45% of survey respondents said that they “were interested in working an alternative work schedule”
80% of employees claim that “they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options”
23% of organizations run on a “true 4-day workweek”
60% of organizations that operate on a 4-day workweek express “gains in employee satisfaction and productivity resulting from fewer meetings”
39% of U.S. workers have a “distaste for the 4-day workweek”
Common reasons for disliking the 4-day workweek include the “inability to maintain social aspects of work, limited productivity, and fear of distractions from their work”
“Time management is a misnomer, the challenge is to manage ourselves.” - Stephen R. Covey
Benefits of the 4-day workweek
Fewer workplace distractions
In an article by AdeccoGroup, “Andrew Barnes, the owner of New Zealand law firm Perpetual Guardian” reported that employees were less distracted from work after implementing a 4-day workweek program. Employees spent “35% less time on non-work websites” and they believe it is because they had more time to manage their “household life and responsibilities outside of work” (AdeccoGroup, 2021). Other organizations such as TimeCamp state that when employees are more relaxed and less stressed due to the extended 3-day weekend, they are less likely to be distracted (Rybacka, 2021). This assumption is backed by The Anxiety Center’s president Jim Folk who states that “being easily distracted is a common indication of persistently elevated stress” (Folk, 2021). By giving employees more time to fulfill their household responsibilities, rest, de-stress, and invest in their relationships with friends and family, 4-day workweek businesses are helping their employees focus on work when at work and home when at home.
Closely related to the increased focus of 4-day workweek employees, 4-day workweeks have also been associated with an increase in productivity. After examining over 250 global workplaces that have implemented a shortened workweek, the Henley Business School states that “two-thirds of UK businesses operating on a four-day week reported improvements in staff productivity” and that this was due to the increased mental health and wellbeing of staff (HenleyBusinessSchool, 2019). Furthermore, the Society of Human Resource Management reports that 60% of organizations that operate on a 4-day workweek increased their “productivity” due to the reduced amount of “meetings” (Agovino, 2020). According to Deutsche Welle, in 2019, Microsoft Japan experimented with giving all employees Fridays off, resulting in a 40% increase in productivity (Imran, 2021).
Increased attraction of new employees
The 4-day workweek is especially attractive to employees. According to Henley Business School, 67% of Gen Z Brits claim that when job searching, the proposition of a 4-day workweek would be a driving force that helped them pick where they wanted to work. They also report that 75% of Brits, in general, are in support of a shortened workweek (HenleyBusinessSchool, 2019). A survey done by the Society of Human Resource Management reported that 45% of people are interested in an “alternative work schedule” (Agovino, 2020). Since the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have become increasingly concerned with their quality of life and work/life balance. According to PWC’s workforce pulse survey findings, “employees deeply value extra paid time off, including dedicated time to upskill or volunteer, as so important they’d give up part of their future earnings to get it.” Employees are searching for careers with increased “flexibility” and “personalization” (pwc, 2021). By offering a 4-day workweek, employers can increase the flexibility they offer their employees, ultimately attracting more employees.
“It’s about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment & helping to find a way to innovate.” - Marissa Mayer
Increased retainment of employees
Not only does a 4-day workweek increase the attractiveness of an organization to potential employees, but it also helps them retain the employees they already have. According to surveys done by the Henley Business School, 63% of employers reported that having a 4-day workweek “has helped them to attract and retain talent” (2019). TimeCamp also states that 4-day workweeks can prevent employee burnout (Rybacka, 2021). The Society of Human Resource Management also states that “80% of employees claim that they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options” (Agovino, 2020).
Increased employee wellness
There are a myriad of benefits to employee wellness that a 4-day workweek offers. Surveys by the Henley School of Business reported that for 4-day workweek businesses, 78% of staff are happier, 70% of staff experienced reduced levels of stress, and 62% of staff took fewer sick days compared to the standard 5-day operation (2019). Research by Gallup also reported increased rates of employee wellbeing (Harter & Pendell, 2021). Owl Labs summarizes this well by stating that the increased flexibility and work-life balance afforded by the 4-day workweek “helps employees be healthier and ready to work” (Duff, 2020).
Environmental and economic benefits
By transitioning to a 4-day workweek, employers can reduce their carbon footprint and save money. Research from the University of Massachusetts indicates that employers who transition to a 4-day workweek could reduce their carbon footprint by almost 30% (Knight et al., 2012 & Smedley, 2019). Furthermore, the Henley School of Business estimates that by implementing 4-day workweeks, UK businesses could save approximately £104 billion or $142.52 billion per year (2019). Microsoft Japan’s 4-day workweek also provided a 23% reduction in electricity costs. They also reported using 60% less paper (NPR, 2019). 4-day workweeks not only reduce the cost of overhead but also reduce the cost of commuting for employees (Rybacka, 2021).
Drawbacks of the 4-day workweek
While most researchers support the implementation of the 4-day workweek, there are some drawbacks to consider.
Potential for decreased engagement
Research by Gallup indicates that although a 4-day workweek is associated with thriving and wellbeing, it also represents a decrease in workplace engagement. They claim that “the percentage of actively disengaged workers was highest for those with 4-day and 6-day work weeks” (Harter & Pendell, 2021). However, their study was done with companies that have implemented a 4-day workweek while maintaining at least 35 hours of work. The companies surveyed did not reduce their hours to the traditional 8-hour workdays and added at least 45 minutes per day and at most 2 hours per day to their employees' daily work hours. This could indicate a difference between the results of a compressed 4x10 workweek versus a shortened 4x8 workweek.
Regardless, Harter and Pendell of Gallup conclude that employers should first focus on the quality of the workplace and state that by “working fewer days per week, employees who already feel disconnected from their employer, team, or manager are more likely to drift even farther away—from tolerating their jobs to hating them” (2021). By first examining the workplace, employers can best determine what type of 4-day workweek is most beneficial and effective for their employees.
Much of the benefits of a 4-day workweek extend from how employees use their extended time off. One concern for managers is that their employees will get second or third jobs to fill up their additional free time. Instead of taking the extra time off to recuperate, some employees could return to the workplace more tired than they were in the previous week. Encouraging employees to use this time to rest, recuperate, volunteer, spend time with friends, invest in family, gain new skills, and develop new hobbies can prevent these concerns as well as corporate-wide policies regarding additional jobs.
Not for everyone
Not all industries can adopt a 4-day workweek policy. For example, medical centers and emergency response teams need staff 24/7. This could cause scheduling challenges or conflicts if a 4-day workweek policy were implemented (Rybacka, 2021).
Less time to complete tasks
Sometimes, when implementing a 4-day workweek, employees are given less time to do the same amount of work. This can be particularly stressful for some employees with many duties and responsibilities (Shenton, 2021). However, it is important to note that on average, the 8-hour workday does not equal 8 hours of continuous work. A survey of 1,989 adults by VoucherCloud, revealed that only 2 hours and 53 minutes out of an 8-hour workday were devoted to “actual productivity” (VoucherCloud, n.d.). By encouraging employees to monitor their time well and having clear expectations for employees and their roles, this drawback to the 4-day workweek can be effectively managed.
“An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” -Dale Carnegie
Things to consider
When examining the potential adoption of a 4-day workweek, it is important to consider how your business will function within these 4 days. Will employees be expected to work 10 hours or the traditional 8 hours per day? Will vacation time be reduced in light of the new 3-day weekend? Will employees' pay be affected? Can your organization transition to a 4-day workweek? The Society of Human Resource Management outlines several important questions below:
Why are you considering a 4-day workweek? What are your goals?
How will you determine if a 4-day workweek is effective for your business?
Will your entire business adopt the 4-day workweek or only some staff?
How will the 4-day workweek affect clients and customers? (Agovino, 2020)
A key thing to remember when implementing a 4-day workweek is the importance of “deep work” or “the specializations and expertise that define careers and helps businesses grow” (Nagele, 2021). By encouraging employees to concentrate on completing important tasks and also providing them the resources they need to focus (quiet rooms, optional break areas, etc.), employers can help employees complete their traditional 40-hour workload in a more time-efficient manner.
“When people tell me they’ve learned from experience, I tell them the trick is to learn from other people’s experience.” - Warren Buffett
As more companies transition to a 4-day workweek, businesses are sharing their experience and outcomes. Below is a list of available case studies and examples of companies that have implemented 4-day workweeks.
Iceland’s Report on their 4-day Workweek Study from 2015-2019
CNBC article on Bolt, Uncharted, Wanderlust, and Elephant Ventures’ Experience with a 4-Day Workweek
The main takeaway
The results reported by businesses that implemented a 4-day workweek are promising. With a variety of positive outcomes, it is currently a policy that many employers are testing. It is important to consider the differences between various 4-day workweek policies and adjust your own policy so it fits your industry, employees, and business. When implemented with precision and clarity, the 4-day workweek inspires employees to recoup, relax, and effectively use their time.
“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” - Henry David Thoreau
4 Day Week. (n.d.). 4 Day Week Campaign | Campaign for a shorter working week. https://www.4dayweek.co.uk/.
AdeccoGroup. (2021, June 22). The Advantages and Disadvantages Of The Four-Day Work Week. https://www.adeccogroup.com/future-of-work/latest-insights/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-the-four-day-work-week/.
Agovino, T. (2020, June 20). The Phenomenon of the Four-Day Workweek. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/four-day-workweek.aspx.
Duff, C. (2020, June 15). Why You Should Try a 4-Day Workweek (+ How to Pitch It). Owl Lab. https://resources.owllabs.com/blog/four-day-work-week#pros-and-cons.
FingerprintForSuccess. (n.d.). Can the four day work week save us? (A look at the statistics). https://www.fingerprintforsuccess.com/blog/four-day-work-week.
Folk, J. (2021, May 18). Easily Distracted Anxiety Symptoms. AnxietyCentre.Com. https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-disorders/symptoms/easily-distracted/#:%7E:text=Being%20easily%20distracted%20is%20a,cause%20the%20easily%20distracted%20symptom.
Hartmans, A. (2021, March 17). Spain’s government has agreed to test a 4-day workweek where employees would make the same amount while working fewer hours. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/spain-testing-4-day-workweek-pilot-program-2021-3?international=true&r=US&IR=T.
HenleyBusinessSchool. (2019). Four-day week pays off for UK business. https://www.henley.ac.uk/news/2019/four-day-week-pays-off-for-uk-business.
Imran, W. (2021, May 9). Working four days a week: Hit or miss? Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/four-day-work-week-a-mixed-success/a-59091672.
Knight, K., Rosa, E., & Schor, J. (2012). Reducing Growth to Achieve Environmental Sustainability: The Role of Work Hours. University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Nagele, N. (2021, June 15). 4-day workweeks can’t work without deep work. Wildbit. https://wildbit.com/blog/4-day-workweeks-cant-work-without-deep-work.
npr. (2019, November 4). 4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers’ Productivity By 40%, Microsoft Japan Says. https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/776163853/microsoft-japan-says-4-day-workweek-boosted-workers-productivity-by-40.
Pendell, R., & Harter, J. (2021, September 9). Is the 4 Day Work Week a Good Idea? Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/354596/4-day-work-week-good-idea.aspx
pwc. (2021). What’s next for America’s workforce post-COVID. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/workforce-of-the-future/library/workforce-pulse-survey.html.
Rybacka, O. (2021, October 26). The Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Work Week. TimeCamp. https://www.timecamp.com/blog/2021/10/the-pros-and-cons-of-a-4-day-work-week/.
Shenton, C. (2021, August 19). Disadvantages of a 4 day work week: Still worth a go? Weekly10. https://www.weekly10.com/disadvantages-of-a-4-day-work-week/.
Smedley, T. (2019, August 6). How shorter workweeks could save Earth. BBC Worklife. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190802-how-shorter-workweeks-could-save-earth#:%7E:text=New%20research%20by%20Henley%20Business,days%20off%20ill%20(62%25).
The 4 Day Week Campaign. (n.d.). FAQs. 4 Day Week. https://www.4dayweek.co.uk/faqs
VoucherCloud. (n.d.). How Many Productive Hours in a Work Day? Just 2 Hours, 23 Minutes. . . https://www.vouchercloud.com/resources/office-worker-productivity.
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