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Should employers consider a 4-day work week?

Published: 05 January 2023

Author: Julie Robinson

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The 4-day work week has been a popular topic lately. Most reports appear to suggest that the 4-day work week is what people want, and is something employers should be considering in their efforts to attract the best and brightest talent.

What is a 4-day work week?

As you know if you are a recruiter,  a 4-day work week reduces the work week from five days to four, and there are a couple of ways people are doing this; some businesses are compressing 40 hours into four days, meaning that people work 10 hours a day instead of eight. Others are reducing the number of hours worked, typically from 40 to 32, with three full days off a week.

The argument for the latter is that reducing the work week from 40 hours to 32 “can lead to improved well-being for workers without a loss of productivity for businesses.” According to Investopedia, studies have shown that at some point, productivity decreases as the number of hours worked increases, leading to the hypothesis that 40-hour workweeks may be needlessly wearing people out. 

Why employers might consider a 4-day week

Companies have reportedly seen levels of success with both models.

According to 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit community with an agenda to push the 4-day week, a recent pioneering pilot program was “a huge success.” More than 30 companies and almost 1,000 employees in countries including the US, Ireland, and Australia tested a 4-day week over six months. Companies gave their staff an extra day off per week, with no reduction in pay, and experienced increased revenue along with reduced absenteeism and resignations. Workers reported feeling less stressed and burnt out, and having higher rates of life satisfaction. 

None of the participating organizations are returning to a five-day week.

Companies rated the trial a nine out of 10 and expressed “extreme satisfaction” with overall productivity and performance. 

Ninety-seven percent of employees said they want to continue with a 4-day week and 70% said their next job would need to offer between 10 to 50% more pay for them to go back to a five-day schedule, with over one in 10 saying no amount of money could make them go back. 

We conducted our own poll at Raymond George, asking the question: Assuming you have 100% workload, and your compensation, benefits, and perks were the same, which work arrangement would you prefer? And got the following responses:

4 days remote - 34%
5 days remote - 17%
4 days hybrid/in the office - 44%
5 days hybrid/in the office - 5%

Challenges and disadvantages of a 4-day week

Clearly many people want to work a 4-day week. But before companies jump in, there are some potential challenges to consider. 

For instance, insufficient time to get the job done, if the company has opted for an eight-hour day over a 10-hour day. Yes, many people, maybe most, could do their required work in reduced hours. Software company Buffer has seen success with a 4-day work week trial that turned permanent with 91% of the team reporting higher levels of happiness and productivity. Buffer found that 84% of their team was able to get all of their work done in four days a week. However, that leaves 16% that wasn’t able, which anyone who runs a business knows is not an insignificant number. And once the initial thrill wears off, more workers might resent being required to do 40 hours worth of work in 32. 

Companies may be able to address this issue by examining workloads, but some people just need more time to do things than others and won’t want or be able to cram the work into fewer hours. Being required to do so may increase stress levels and decrease job satisfaction. 

Similarly, companies that go with a 10 hour day may risk employees who thought the idea sounded great in the beginning becoming disgruntled and resentful when they realize they’re just feeling pressured to work longer days, which can cut into mornings, evenings, family time, and time to run a household. 

Other potential challenges include coverage - businesses that can’t have a full day off would have to find solutions like rotating days. 

Balancing hourly workers with salaried workers is another possible issue. Salaried workers would, under the typical model, be paid the same amount for the reduced hours worked. If you have hourly workers, however, do you increase their wages to make up for the lost eight hours or do you keep them on a 40 hour week? These are organizational questions that would have to be answered. 

Maybe what workers really want is flexibility

Most people at least think they want a 4-day work week. A recent survey by Qualtrics found that 92% of workers like the idea of working four 10-hour days every week, instead of five eight-hour days. More than one in three (37%) said they would choose a shorter workweek even if it meant taking a pay cut, and 82% said that they would be more productive on a condensed schedule.

But maybe what they really want is more flexibility. When participants in the same survey were asked to choose between a 4-day week or having the freedom to set their own hours, the second option was slightly more popular at 50% - 47%.

No single solution is going to suit every business and individual employers have to assess the pros and cons. But we do know that flex work options will attract more talent than more rigid requirements and a 4-day work week might just be creating an equally rigid structure which will be problematic in the long run.

We should be talking about flex work options as a whole. If people want to exercise that as a choice to work four days or spread their week out into seven five hour days that works too. As long as the work gets done.

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