- More and more workers are looking for the right to disconnect from work and find better work-life balance.
- A survey of over 2,300 full-time employees found that 94 percent of workers would enjoy a 4-day workweek model, and 85 percent think it’s logistically possible for them.
- 4 Day Week Global reports that 78 percent of employees with 4-day weeks are happier and less stressed.
- Productivity rates among 4-day employees tend to remain the same and in some cases, increase by 20–40 percent.
It’s been over 80 years since President Roosevelt’s New Deal limited working hours in the United States and established the 40-hour workweek as the national standard. But the nature of work has changed dramatically since then, especially with the increase of desk work, reduction of traditional manufacturing and factory jobs, and rise of remote working.
With the shift in work culture, moving from active, on-site work to remote, screen-heavy work, more and more workers are disengaged while on the job, which is why the 4-day workweek model is gaining traction across many industries.
A Joblist survey of over 2,300 full-time U.S. employees found that 94 percent of workers would enjoy a 4-day workweek model and 85 percent think that it’s logistically possible for them. But is a shortened work week just wishful thinking?
According to recent research, maybe not.
Studies out of Iceland and New Zealand indicate that a shorter workweek results in lower burnout and higher productivity among employees. Countries such as Belgium, Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and Japan are also conducting trials on the 4-day model or shifting to the new model, offering it to employees who want it.
The 4-day workweek concept gained global recognition after business innovator Andrew Barnes reported in 2018 that his company, Perpetual Guardian, experienced a 20 percent increase in productivity after piloting the reduced work hours model. Barnes, the co-author of The 4 Day Week, dubs the model a “flexible work revolution” and has built the not-for-profit “4 Day Week Global” with Managing Director Charlotte Lockhart to fund research into these practices. Together with researchers like Juliet Schor, countries across the globe are piloting shortened workweek programs and measuring outcomes, and the results are promising.
To find the best solutions for raising engagement and productivity levels, learn more about the four-day workweek, get tips for how to implement it, and discover its potential drawbacks.
What Is the 4-Day Workweek?
The 4-day workweek is when employees work four days (32 hours) per week for their full-time (40 hours) pay and benefits. In the typical model, they are working 80 percent of the time, but are expected to complete 100 percent of the work that would have been handled during a five-day schedule. The idea is to give workers more personal time to promote better work-life balance, which will also drive motivation and productivity during working hours.
The goals of an effective 4-day workweek model include:
- Eliminating “slack time” or disengaged time during work hours in order to maximize output
- Working in a more focused, efficient, and streamlined manner to meet productivity expectations
- Changing meeting behaviors and structures to eliminate time wasting
- Cutting out the least productive activities
- Increasing the pace of work
- Choosing more efficient communication tools, such as instant chat functions and shared email inboxes
- Prioritizing and planning work tasks
On their extra day off, working professionals have the freedom to handle personal tasks at home, spend time with loved ones, engage in hobbies, and learn new skills.
Why Companies Are Turning Toward the 4-Day Workweek
“It’s not a new idea, but the pandemic has turbocharged it. Employers are realizing that if they can rethink where people work, they can also rethink how many days they’re on the job.”Juliet Schor
Juliet Schor, an economist, sociology professor at Boston College, and lead researcher for the largest 4-hour workweek pilot program to date, said in a 2022 TED Talk, “In the U.S., more than half of all employees report feeling stressed a lot of the day. Job quits are at record levels, running at four million a month. People are burning out.”
Schor explains that companies are turning toward the 4-day workweek model as a response to worker stress, burnout, and disengagement.
Since the mid-1900s, work culture has become more grueling and workers are going beyond their normal hours, often from their own living rooms or kitchen tables. For the modern worker, it’s hard to distinguish work time from free time, which causes issues like low productivity, a lack of motivation, and burnout. Plus, changes in the workplace during the pandemic have given rise to questions about the typical workweek and whether or not the traditional five-day schedule is necessary.
Why do employees prefer a 4-day workweek?
- In recent years, it has become apparent that employees are looking for the right to disconnect. In 2021, the nation’s quit rate reached a 20-year high, a record that has become known as the “Great Resignation.”
- A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that 24 percent of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 reported that “not enough flexibility to choose when to put in hours” was a major reason, and 20 percent quit because they were “working too many hours.”
- Will Stronge, the director of research at the think tank Autonomy, said in an NPR podcast that the “creep of overtime” occurring in the U.S. and U.K. is what drives the popularity of the four-day workweek. Workers value a sense of work-life balance that, for many, isn’t being captured in a traditional work schedule.
Top Benefits of the 4-Day Workweek
We know why many workers prefer a reduced workweek model, but does it actually work? Researchers have found that the 4-day workweek:
1. Improves Well-Being and Employee Satisfaction
In their pilot programs involving thousands of employees, 4 Day Week Global found that 78 percent of workers with four-day weeks are happier and less stressed. With an extra day off, workers have time to fulfill responsibilities at home, make health or personal care appointments, acquire new skills, and connect with loved ones.
2. Increases Productivity
In addition to improving productivity, a condensed work schedule may also promote better creativity and innovation among employees, who feel more refreshed after a long weekend and more engaged while working. Reports out of Microsoft Japan suggest that implementing the 4-day week can increase productivity by 40 percent, while most other companies found that productivity remained at least the same as during a full-time schedule.
Research by Henley Business School in the U.K. indicates that one-third of business leaders think that the 4-day model will be important to success in the future.
3. Supports Female Workers
Will Stronge from Autonomy believes that a shorter workweek will address what he calls the “second shift” for working mothers, which includes housework, preparing meals, and tending to the children.
“If you’re talking about working time reduction, this is particularly relevant to women who have their paid employment and their unpaid work at the home,” Stronge said in an NPR Podcast called Life Kit.
Reports suggest that women are three times more likely than men to take on childcare responsibilities, thereby leaving the workforce. The option to work fewer hours for full-time pay will support female workers who will then be able to separate their responsibilities.
4. Creates Better Environmental Conditions
Research suggests that reducing the work week will also lower carbon emissions. A four-day week allows for less commuting, paper waste, and plastic use at the office. Juliet Schor’s research on the environmental impact of the 4-day workweek indicates that when people have more time, they tend to have a lower carbon footprint.
One report by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that when work hours were reduced by 10 percent, there was a 14 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
5. Sets Clear Boundaries
A lack of boundaries and workday structure can cause anxiety, underperformance, and burnout for employees. At-home working can make boundaries fuzzy, with many workers reporting putting in more than 40 hours per week. Allotting an extra day off allows employees to save their personal matters for off-time.
When Oregon-based Treehouse, an online learning platform, reduced work days to four, 50 percent of their employees said they were spending more time with family and on hobbies.
6. Improves Employee Retention and Hiring
After the “Great Resignation,” it became apparent that employees weren’t willing to stick around when they felt overworked and a reduced work schedule was an attractive asset. 4 Day Week Global reports that 63 percent of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week.
5 Examples of the 4-Day Workweek Across the World
1. New Zealand (Perpetual Guardian)
Andrew Barnes implemented a 4-day workweek at his company Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand provider of estate planning services. His findings sparked a global fascination with the reduced work model and have become an example of qualitative analysis in favor of the four-day week movement.
Barnes reported that after trialing the four-day week, there was a:
- 20 percent increase in employee productivity
- 27 percent reduction in worker stress levels
- 45 percent increase in employee work-life balance
2. U.K. Pilot Program
In a six-month trial in the United Kingdom, more than 70 organizations are participating in the four-day workweek structure. The trial, which is led by 4 Day Week Global and think tank Autonomy, involves researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College, and Oxford University. In total, it includes over 3,300 employees who are getting their full-time pay for working four days per week. 4 Day Week Global CEO Joe O’Connor said that the trial is “laying the foundation for the future of work by putting a four-day week into practice, across every size of a business and nearly every sector.”
The trial concludes at the end of November 2022, but participating companies provided a brief internal check-in survey at the program’s halfway point. The survey indicates that:
- 88 percent of respondents feel that the four-day week is working “well” for their business
- 46 percent say that productivity has “maintained around the same level”
- 34 percent say that productivity has “improved slightly”
- 15 percent say that productivity has “improved significantly”
- 86 percent state that they are “extremely likely” or “likely” to consider retaining the four-day workweek policy after the trial period
3. United States (Kickstarter and Healthwise)
The crowdfunding platform Kickstarter announced a 32-hour week trial in 2022 and has already reported positive results. Chief Strategy Officer Jon Leland said that employees are:
- More engaged
- Come to work rested and more focused
- Motivated to get work done faster
Healthwise, a non-profit based in Boise, Idaho, that develops health content, began a four-day workweek trial in 2021 after worker retention became a major issue. Within six months:
- Employees reported being happier
- Customers were more satisfied
- Revenue increased
4. Iceland Pilot Program
Iceland is considered one of the leaders in the four-day workweek model. The country conducted a large pilot program that involved over 2,500 employees who were able to cut down their working hours to 35–36 per week, without a pay cut.
The trial promoted serious changes in the way people work in Iceland. Today in Iceland:
- 90 percent of employees have reduced work hours
- Worker burnout and stress have been reduced
- Employees reported an improved work-life balance
5. Japan (Microsoft and Panasonic)
In 2021, the Japanese government announced a plan to achieve better work-life balance among the nation’s workers. Since then, a growing number of Japanese companies are offering reduced work hours to employees, including Panasonic, whose CEO Kusumi Yuki announced in January that workers may have a third day off, therefore “freeing them up to take side jobs, volunteer or just relax.”
In 2019, before Japan made serious trends toward reduced work hours, Microsoft experimented with working 4 days a week for one month. As a result, the company reported a:
- 40 percent increase in employee productivity
- 23 percent decrease in electricity costs
- Reduction in paper use by nearly 60 percent
Criticism and Limitations of the 4-Day Workweek
While reports on 4-day workweeks are generating attention from companies around the world, there are some criticisms and limitations that leaders should keep in mind before implementing this model.
- Requires Monitoring: A 2021 study conducted in New Zealand and published in Emerald Insight suggests that the four-day workweek was deemed beneficial by employees, but it did require managers to intensify their performance measurements and monitoring while increasing productivity pressures.
- Doesn’t Work for Every Job: Healthcare workers, teachers, and manufacturing workers are some examples of jobs that cannot easily cut back to a 32-hour workweek without the need for additional staff. 4-day week advocates like Juliet Schor, however, believe that a gain in productivity and reduction of healthcare costs among happier workers will offset the cost of new hires.
- Requires Firm Guidelines: For the four-day workweek to work, clear and firm guidelines must be made for all employees so they know what’s expected of them. This will ensure that productivity remains at 100 percent, despite a reduction in work time.
- May Require an Adjustment Period: It may take an adjustment period for employees to fit their workload into a shorter work week. When Formstack, a workplace productivity platform, reduced the work week to 4.5 days, some employees reported feeling stressed, in addition to positive outcomes like increased productivity and greater happiness. It turns out, adjusting to the new schedule was causing stress for some employees and an acclimation period was helpful.
- Doesn’t Adjust Workloads: Even after cutting a day from the work week in the standard four-day model, the workload remains the same. In some cases, a reduction in workload or revision of expectations may be necessary. If the required workload is too intense for the number of hours worked, employers may be left with stressed and frustrated workers.
How to Implement the 4-Day Workweek
If you’re ready to try out a four-day workweek, here are some basic steps to take for the best outcome:
- Work smarter, streamlining processes and cutting out slack time or distractions
- Create clear guidelines and expectations for a typical work week, indicating an end-of-week goal that you (or your team) must accomplish
- Reduce meeting times and choose faster messaging platforms for employee interactions when possible
- Practice good time management by prioritizing and delegating tasks
- Increase your pace of work by time-blocking deep work during your most energetic hours
To maximize your personal time and be more productive, read more on Work Efficiency.
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