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Why the 4-Day Work Week is Gathering New Momentum

publishedabout 1 month ago
6 min read

One topic I’ve written about time and time again is the 4-day work week — and for good reason. Typically defined as a reduction in hours from 40 hours/week to 32 hours/week (but with no corresponding reduction in pay or employee output), it’s been widely lauded as a better workplace model and what should be the path forward for most organizations.

In my own research, I’ve found that most workers feel they could complete all of their tasks in less than 8 hours a day, and they’d prefer to work less than 5 days a week if their pay remained the same. The leaders I’ve surveyed also agree that a shorter work week is both feasible for their business and better for their staff, and they acknowledge that employee satisfaction and retention would improve if they were to implement this approach.

But despite the widespread appetite for a 4-day work week, organizations have been decidedly reluctant to adopt it. Some companies fear that a reduction in working hours would result in less revenue, and there are doubts about employees being able to complete all of their tasks within the shorter timeframe. Workers, meanwhile, have expressed concerns that they might be forced to work at a more intense pace, which could offset any benefits they’d gain from having an extra day off.

However, most experts agree that the real reason behind the slow adoption of the 4-day work week is that the 5-day week is simply considered the norm. It’s been widely accepted by both organizations and employees for decades, and there’s a common misconception that 40 hours is the optimal amount of time that people should work, when in fact all of the data says otherwise.

Thankfully, new research shines a light on how a reduction in work hours is objectively the better way forward. In one of the largest trials to date, 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit organization, collaborated with researchers at Boston College, University College Dublin, and Cambridge University to conduct a pilot program with 33 companies employing 903 people in total.

The trial offers definitive proof of just how successful the 4-day work week can be. Participating organizations saw their revenue go up nearly 38% compared to the same period in 2021, and they also enjoyed increased hiring, reduced absenteeism, and fewer resignations. Employees benefited immensely as well, reporting less stress and burnout, better physical and mental health, and greater satisfaction with their lives and relationships.

Overall, companies and employees rated the trial a 9 out of 10, and 97% of workers said they’d like to continue with the 4-day work week. Perhaps more notably, two-thirds of the companies said they’re definitely continuing with the 4 day week, and over a quarter are planning to continue but haven’t made a final decision yet. None are leaning against or not planning on continuing with the new schedule.

In many ways, the timing for this study couldn’t be better. The employee burnout dilemma is still a pressing issue for most organizations, and in my own research with Deloitte I found that only around 1 out of 3 workers say their job has a positive impact on their well-being. We also uncovered that less than two-thirds of employees report being in “excellent” or “good” physical and mental health.

It’s clear from the trial that the 4-day week presents a compelling opportunity for businesses to make a real impact on employee well-being, and perhaps leaders should be paying more attention to this. We know that many companies are struggling with ongoing talent shortages, which leaves job candidates in the unique position to make greater demands from prospective employers — demands which might soon include a 4-day work week. In fact, 86% of the study participants said they’d require more pay to go back to a 5-day schedule, and 13% said that no amount of money would make them give up the 4-day week.

For businesses, this means that offering a 4-day work week could play a vital role in boosting their employee retention and recruitment efforts. But if that’s not enough to convince you of the merits of a shorter week, 4 Day Week Global will soon release the results from a separate six-month trial in the UK. The trial, which includes 70 companies and 3,300 workers, wrapped up this month and is the world’s biggest to date.

I’m excited to see the results of the second trial, and I promise to revisit these in a later article. Today, however, I want to offer some advice for organizations contemplating making the shift to a 4-day week. Despite all of its benefits, there are some common missteps you should aim to avoid in order to ensure a seamless transition for your business and your workforce.

6 tips for a successful transition to a 4-day work week

1. Get buy-in at all levels of the organization: An important first step is to obtain buy-in from everyone who will be affected by this shift. Given what we know from the research, individual team members are almost certain to be on-board — but what about leaders at your company? And what about managers? After all, they’re the ones who will have to oversee the day-to-day practicalities of this shift, so it’s critical that they understand the benefits of the new way of working. It’s also essential that they’re given the tools and resources to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.

2. Assess feasibility: One of the biggest concerns for employees is that condensing their work into 4 days will actually increase their stress levels. That’s why it’s crucial that you carefully consider the feasibility of this approach and look at how employees are spending their time. Pay special attention to where they might be losing time — for example, attending unnecessary meetings, dealing with tedious administrative tasks, or participating in too many required social activities. Odds are that your workers are spending a good chunk of time each week on activities that are non-critical or “below pay grade,” so to speak.

3. Find ways to help your people work smarter: Once you’ve identified some of the areas where your employees may be losing time, the next step is to address these. Using the examples from above, you might want to put new rules in place around who should be asked to attend certain meetings, or you could revisit the amount of time people are spending on non-critical activities during the workday. It’s also a good idea to look into purchasing technology or AI tools that could make your employees lives’ easier, or you could hire on a part-time administrative assistant to support your team.

4. Adjust company policies to support the new schedule: Remember, the 4-day work week isn’t just about trimming a bit of time from your workers’ schedules — it means ensuring that your staff can take off one full day per week. With that in mind, you’ll likely need to adapt your company’s policies, procedures, and operations to align with the new way of working. For example, you may need to prohibit people from scheduling meetings on Fridays, if that’s when everyone takes off. Or you may need to communicate with your customers and clients that they’ll have limited access to your company on certain days.

5. Start slowly if needed: In the pilot program, work time declined to around 35 hours per week — not 32 hours (i.e., not a full day less per week). And although 79% of workers were able to take one full day off each week, 14% got a day off only every two weeks, and 7% took a day off less frequently than that. The takeaway here is that it might take some time for your business and your team members to make the shift to a shorter week, and that’s okay. As the trial clearly showed, a partial reduction in work hours can still result in a substantial impact on business and employee outcomes.

6. Monitor and measure the new way of working: If your organization is uncertain about making the jump to a shorter work week — which, by the way, is completely normal — it makes sense to put systems in place that will allow you to track its effectiveness. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason why so many of the companies in the pilot program are continuing on with the 4-day work week is because they captured pre- and post-trial data across a wide range of outcomes. Take a look their study for some ideas on KPIs to measure if you’re considering a reduction in work hours for your staff.

Could the 4-day week become our new normal?

Along with many other workplace experts, I’m excited to see the 4-day work week gathering new momentum as a result of 4 Day Week Global’s trial. The findings from their larger, soon-to-be-released study should add even more impetus around this movement. However, only time will tell whether the broader world of work is ready to make this shift. I know I’m not alone when I say that I hope the shorter week becomes our new normal — and sooner rather than later — since it's becoming more and more evident that this is what’s best for employees and organizations alike.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!