What Is the 4-Day Workweek & Is It Right for Your Business?
- Human Resources
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 11/08/2022
Table of Contents
With the lasting impacts of the pandemic and the "Great Resignation" still fresh in their minds, many employers are looking for creative ways to attract and maintain a talented workforce that will give the business a competitive edge in today's marketplace. To keep a healthy and productive workforce, employee well-being and work/life balance must be a priority for employers.
For these reasons and numerous other benefits, the 4-day workweek is gaining momentum in the U.S. By considering this alternative work schedule, employers can make quality of life a priority for employees without sacrificing productivity. By understanding the pros and cons of 4-day workweeks, you can leverage the overall benefits of this arrangement for your business and your employees.
What Is the 4-Day Workweek?
A 4-day workweek is an alternative working arrangement where employees work only four days per week often at the same full-time pay rate. Originally, the 4-day workweek was designed to be an overall reduction in hours — from the standard 40 hours down to 32 hours per week — but some employers have opted for variations, where employees work on a compressed work schedule that distributes the standard 40 working hours across four days instead of five.
This work arrangement is also referred to as flex time, flex scheduling, or alternative scheduling. It may also be referred to as "4/8 workweek" or "4/10 workweek" to designate how many hours the employee is expected to work per day. The 4/8 workweek indicates an employee will be scheduled for four 8-hour shifts, while the 4/10 workweek indicates an employee will be scheduled for four 10-hour shifts.
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How Does a 4-Day Workweek Work?
Four-day workweeks were designed to build in more quality personal time for employees by reducing both the number of working days and the total number of hours per week when compared to a standard 5-day, 40-hour week. Ideally, a 4-day, reduced-hour workweek is implemented with no decrease in pay to the employee. By requiring fewer working hours and offering more time to recharge at the same compensation level, employers may be able to get the same weekly productivity from an employee in less total time worked per week.
As this working arrangement has grown in popularity, employers have adapted the model to fit their operating needs. Some employers may have all employees on the same schedule — working Monday through Thursday with the entire company closed on Fridays. Other employers may stagger employee schedules so that all employees get a weekday off per week, with a subset of employees scheduled off on varying days. This model allows the company to operate five days per week while still affording employees the benefits of a 4-day workweek.
Some employers may adopt the model to lower costs and fit their financial needs, opting to move employees to four 8-hour days while paying the same hourly rate, resulting in a net decrease in payroll costs. While this variation on the 4-day model can help employers control labor costs, it may result in lower satisfaction for employees who rely on higher earnings to make ends meet.
How Many Hours Are in a 4-Day Workweek?
When working 4 days, employees will typically be scheduled for four 8-hour days (32 hours per week) or four 10-hour days (40 hours per week). However, some employers have tried to strike a compromise by offering an alternative schedule of four 9-hour days (36 hours) days, giving employees added flexibility while still fulfilling the needs of the company.
Why Do So Many Businesses Work 5 Days a Week?
In short, many businesses work five days per week to "keep up with the Joneses." All businesses rely on the support of customers, vendors, and other external partners who have similar needs and operational hours. For decades, the standard for "normal business hours" has been set for businesses to be available Monday through Friday from approximately 8am to 5pm.
While there are certainly businesses who have proven to be successful without following this standard, companies may have justifiable concerns about disappointing customers or partners by closing for business during the standard workweek. Fortunately, many companies can still implement a compressed workweek for their employees and maintain a standard 5-day operation with some careful planning.
Shortened Workweeks in Other Countries
The concept of a shortened work week is not unique to the US. Other countries are experimenting with variations on shortened workweeks to leverage the benefits for both workers and employers. Several British organizations have banded together to pilot a four-day workweek for over 3,300 employees. Workers will contribute 32-35 hours per week across 4 days, and companies will monitor the overall effects on productivity, employee job satisfaction, stress, and burnout.
Employers in Spain are also testing 4-day, 32-hour workweeks for up to 6,000 employees across 200 companies. The government-funded pilot program is designed to help employers make the transition to a shortened workweek so they can benefit from the long-term positive effects with the goal of improving the country's overall productivity.
Does a 4-Day Workweek Increase Productivity?
Employees have repeatedly confirmed that having flexible schedules is of significant importance, but can increased schedule flexibility really translate to increased productivity? Early research seems to affirm there is a positive correlation between short workweeks and improved worker productivity.
In its whitepaper on the 4-day workweek, the Henley Business School reported numerous positive benefits, including:
- 64% of businesses saw increases in employee productivity and overall job satisfaction
- 70% of employees felt less stressed while on the job
- 62% of employees took fewer days off
Combined, these benefits ultimately lead to healthier, more productive employees for businesses that adopted this schedule.
Microsoft also experimented with a compressed workweek in its Japan offices and reported a 40% increase in employee productivity. In addition, those offices saw a 23% decrease in electricity costs and 60% fewer printed pages over the same time frame.
Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek
Implementing a 4-day workweek policy can offer numerous benefits to both employers and employees.
While the exact percentage of productivity improvement may vary from business to business, implementing a 4-day workweek has consistently shown to increase productivity for employees.
Reduced Business Expenses
When employees are only in the office four days per week instead of five, expenses such as electricity, water, and printing costs can be reduced. Furthermore, employees are putting less wear-and-tear on office equipment and furniture, leading to additional reductions of business expenses over time.
Decreased Employee Expenses
Implementing a 4-day workweek can also save on costs for your employees. One fewer commute per week can save on gas and auto expenses, but employees can also save over the long-term on costs such as childcare, office attire dry cleaning, or eating out during office lunch breaks.
Better Work/Life Balance
With an additional weekday off work, employees have more flexibility to spend time with family, invest in personal priorities, and accomplish errands that can be difficult to schedule outside normal working hours. This added flexibility can improve an employee's sense of fulfillment and provide greater overall work/life balance.
Disadvantages of a 4-Day Workweek
Before implementing a 4-day workweek, companies should consider the potential challenges and proactively identify solutions.
While employers and employees may be happier with a shorter workweek, customers may not feel as enthusiastic about a reduction in the time that workers are available each week. Depending on the industry, organizations may need to plan for shifting worker schedules or implementing additional customer service strategies to avoid any perceived or actual decline in customer support.
Lower Earning Potential for Hourly Employees
The original intent of a 4-day work week was to decrease working hours for employees with no discernible drop in pay. However, some companies are using this tactic as a way to save on labor costs by only scheduling employees for four 8-hour shifts (32 hours) instead of the traditional five 8-hour shifts (40 hours). Hourly employees may not be as excited about a 4-day workweek if it also means a potential reduction in weekly pay.
Some employees have difficulty trying to accomplish their usual workload in four days instead of five. One fewer workday per week does have many personal benefits, but it also means one fewer day to connect with colleagues and accomplish work tasks. This can cause additional stress, especially in environments with already demanding deadlines.
Decreased Organizational Work Output
Although productivity generally increases for individual workers on a 4-day workweek, the overall organizational output may experience a decline when operating only four days instead of five. For example, manufacturers that shut down assembly lines for an additional day per week could lose more in lost production than is gained in additional productivity on the other four operating days.
Should You Shorten Your Workweek?
In today's competitive labor market, considering a 4-day workweek that builds added flexibility for your employees can help attract and retain top talent to your organization. When implemented effectively, a shortened work week can increase productivity and help your employees maintain a better work-life balance.
A 4-day schedule isn't for every business or every employee, however. Customers may complain if business hours are shortened, and some employees may feel pressured to accomplish the same amount of work in less time. With careful planning, these challenges can be proactively handled to ensure that those involved can make positive adjustments and reap the benefits of an alternative work schedule.
Before implementing this change in your business, you should have detailed and accurate time and attendance tracking in place. The quick and easy reporting will be invaluable as you evaluate your program and make adjustments for your employees.