The idea behind having a 4-day work week was conceived of to improve business productivity, improved happiness and wellness for staff, and a more sustainable working environment.
After all, there have been many changes throughout time to the days and hours employees work. Not so long ago, during the Industrial Revolution, many people worked up to 100 hours a week and now 40 hours is considered standard.
Many people in traditional 9 to 5 jobs, who work 5 days a week currently, crave more flexibility in terms of the hours they work. Many would prefer to work fewer hours and fewer days each week. Many employees are also looking for employers that offer more flexibility like staggered hours, job-sharing, remote work, 5-hour days and 4-day work weeks.
On the face of it, many employers may be quite resistant and hesitant to accept reduced work hours or shorter weeks. But there can actually be many advantages, including increased staff happiness and productivity, which we discuss below.
And during the recent COVID-19 pandemic many employees have had to rapidly transition to working from home (WFH) and remotely. That has sparked a re-think of old, outdated work models. In addition, many people lost jobs during the pandemic and a shorter work week could help create a new cultural shift towards more flexibility in the workplace.
Various organisations around the world have adopted different types of 4-day work weeks. Some offer them permanently to all employees. Others implement them seasonally. Some organisations allow employees to choose to work fewer days (although that also can mean a lower paycheck). Some companies get their workers to keep to 42 hours a week over 4 days, while others reduce both the days staff have to work and the number of hours at the same pay.
While many organisations are creating their own versions of flexible 4-day work week, the government of Iceland recently decided to trial the world’s shortest work week. The trial had over 2500 workers participating in working only 35 or 36 hours a week at the same pay.
Several other countries including New Zealand, Scotland and Japan are also considering the advantages of a 4-day work week. And several cities and provinces around the world, have – or are wanting to – trial new shorter work weeks. These include Morgantown (USA), Valencia (Spain) and Odsherred (Denmark).
Benefits of a 4 day work week
4-Day Week Global, a nonprofit advocating for a 4-day work week, has some interesting statistics about the benefits of a shorter work week. According to them, 63% of businesses were more able to both attract and retain staff with a 4 day week. And 78% of employees who work a 4-day week also feel happier and less stressed out.
Below we list some of the many benefits for employees of having a shorter work week. Many of these apply to people who work in offices and remotely.
Provides more flexibility
Due to COVID-19 and the need to wear masks and socially distance, many companies have transitioned to remote or hybrid work environments. Companies have also had to build in some flexibility to remote work arrangements. That’s because despite the flexibility of working from home, employees also have had to cope with other demands like childcare and schooling.
Giving employees flexibility in terms of the hours and days they need to work from the office, allows staff to juggle often complex childcare and family arrangements (particularly compounded in complexity thanks to the pandemic).
For example, many working parents who need to fetch children from school or help with homeschooling during lockdowns or quarantines, felt pressured to give up their jobs as the work-life balance was too challenging. But with more flexible work hours, and being able to work remotely, parents can take shifts which eases this pressure.
Many people around the world complain about long working hours, whether they work remotely or in the office. This can create a lack of a work life balance, and affects physical and mental health. All of these factors can contribute towards high levels of work-related stress.
This in turn can have negative effects on performance and motivation. It can also erode a company’s work culture, particularly if many employees feel the same way. And, it can also be a reason for employees leaving their jobs and finding work elsewhere.
Employees who are able to work fewer hours, or fewer days per week have more time to relax, spend time with family and friends and have more of a work life balance. This can be great at reducing stress and can have many other positive outcomes.
Enables a better work-life balance
It almost goes without saying that if you are able to work fewer days a week, or fewer hours, then you have a better work life balance.
For many employees, this is one of the most attractive aspects of any job. If employers are able to offer this, it can help companies to attract staff and also to retain them.
In a regular 9 to 5 job (whether it’s remote or office based), there can be a lot of wasted work time. This can be the result of having many personal admin tasks to do, or because of other distractions. These daily distractions all mount up, along with coffee breaks, lunch breaks, long meetings and other unplanned events.
But once you have a shorter work week, you are incentivised to complete work more efficiently. You may then shorten meetings, spend less time on personal admin, and have fewer social interactions. That in turn can increase productivity and efficiency. It also helps provide added motivation.
Enhances general wellbeing
Workers who have more time to spend relaxing, seeing friends and family, exercising and not being so stressed, generally enjoy a better sense of wellness and happiness. Having more of a work life balance means you also have more time to take care of your physical health and exercise more. And our experience with the pandemic has also shown us how important mental health is and how it needs to be supported.
Reasons for companies to adopt a 4 day work week
Many companies have implemented the 4-day work week. Many of them have found the benefits outweigh the downsides, with many more looking to trial this new work model. For the US crowdfunding company, Kickstarter, which plans to trial a 4-day work week from 2022, they are also looking at the benefits. More specifically Kickstarter believes that staff can be more productive if they are more focused during a shorter work week with fewer interruptions.
Other businesses, like Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand, have actually experienced the positive impacts of a shorter week. For them, these include increased profitability and revenue as well as a reduction in staff turnover rates.
Here are some of the benefits to companies (and the economy) of having shorter work weeks:
Attracting and retaining staff
Most people would jump at the opportunity to work for a company offering a 4-day work week, or reduced working hours, at the same pay. Companies that are able to offer this to their staff, will likely both attract staff more easily and also retain them.
High staff turnover can be costly for companies, as there’s a lot that goes into hiring and training new recruits. So by increasing staff retention rates, companies can actually save money in the long run. And happy staff can also be powerful brand ambassadors for companies.
Shifting to a 4-day work week can actually increase productivity – quite significantly in some cases. For example, Microsoft in Japan trialled the 4-day work week and found that productivity increased by a whopping 40%. It seems that when people have more time off, they have a better work-life balance, and feel more motivated to work hard.
Helps mitigate climate change by lowering emissions
If office based employees work fewer days each week, there’s evidence that this will also lower carbon emissions as a result of less commuting. Lowering carbon emissions can help us all as a society to mitigate the effects of climate change.
And if people have more time off work, they are more likely to make sustainable lifestyle choices. This can also contribute towards general sustainability gains.
Downside to a 4-day work week
In many countries, employers contribute towards staff pensions and healthcare schemes, and the overall employment costs can be quite high. If productivity dips because of shorter working weeks, then employers may not be able to afford to hire additional staff. This could have serious implications for all work sectors.
Another huge drawback is that many workers around the world are paid on an hourly basis for the work they do. So if their hours are reduced, they would earn less. This could have serious detrimental effects on their abilities to earn a decent wage and support themselves. That in turn could result in even higher levels of inequality in society.
There are also certain industries that require staff to work 24 hours a day. Think for example of a hospital, or a 24-hour gas station. These industries could rotate staff to work four days and shorter shifts. But ultimately they also may not be able to afford to pay for the extra staff it would take to cover those shifts.
And in some cases, companies may find that productivity remains the same, but they just end up paying more for work and for overtime.
How remote work has inspired additional support for a 4-day work week
People who are used to working remotely, including digital nomads, often already have found ways to be more productive. That may be because meetings are more efficient when hosted virtually, or because staff are more motivated because of their increased sense of flexibility working from home. And many remote workers find themselves being more productive, as they don’t have to waste time commuting.
The pandemic and the transition to working from home (WFH), coupled with an increased need to provide employees with wellness support, has meant that flexibility in the workplace has become more commonplace.
But just because people work remotely or are digital nomads, doesn’t mean they necessarily have a work life balance. Nor does it mean that they have shorter working hours. So there’s still a desire from many remote workers to have shorter work weeks, or shorter daily hours, to give them more flexibility and a better work life balance.
Since the start of the pandemic, with the mass transition to working remotely, there’s been a worldwide awakening about the future of work. Many people are now looking for better ways and models to manage employees, so that they are happier and more productive.
There’s also been a shift in focus from the number of hours people work a day to the results that they achieve. Time worked doesn’t necessarily equate to increased productivity. This realisation opens the door to a further shift in flexibility – by ushering in a 4-day work week.