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The Pros and Cons of a 4-Day Work Week
The pandemic has ushered in a host of significant changes, influencing every area of life, including how we work. Employees around the world have been forced to adjust to their new work-life within the confines of their homes, and companies not deemed essential have modified their physical environments and/or shifted almost entirely to remote work. As a result of the increased stress and tension these rapid changes have placed on the shoulders of workers, organizations are beginning to adopt policies and practices that they may have resisted in the past. One of the more prevalent, modern approaches to work that has gained momentum in the past few months is the idea of a 4-day work week.
What Does a 4-Day Work Week Look Like?
While flexible schedules have been a topic of interest for some time, primarily leveraged by companies looking to modernize their functions, the idea of a shorter work week has rapidly become a focal point of business debate. In a time of such uncertainty, no organization has all the answers to how to best support their employees, and many have turned to a 4-day work week as a solution for the toll the pandemic has taken on their workers’ mental health. But, what does the 4-day work week look like in action?
In truth, there is no one best answer to this question, and no one definition or description of a four-day work week. Shortened work weeks come in many different forms, depending on the objectives of the adoption of the practice in the first place. Some organizations envisage a shorter work week as a production of the same output, with the work time being condensed into fewer hours. Other companies may plan to implement longer working hours, spread out over fewer days than usual. Some models of a four-day week mean a three-day weekend, while others are set up for a day off midweek. Simply put, it just depends on the type of organization you run, and how you want to go about responding to this international period of disruption. And, the first step to identifying whether a shortened work week practice is right for your company and your employees, is to weigh out the potential advantages and disadvantages it may introduce.
The Benefits of a 4-Day Work Week
The idea of a shortened working week is no doubt appealing to many employees. With an extended weekend, or an additional day off, to work towards, many will likely access a newfound point of motivation, and produce better work as a result. According to a Harris poll conducted in May, when the notion of a 4-day work week began circulating quicker than ever, over 82% of US employees stated they would prefer a shorter workweek. Organizations that have already implemented it as a practice have also contributed to the debate. Perpetual Guardian’s CEO Andrew Barnes stated that his implementation of a four-day workweek in 2018 gleaned lower stress levels, higher creativity, and a major boost in team cohesion for his employees.
As companies begin to reopen their offices, shifting from remote work to a reformed workweek system leads to many companies as the right way to go. With companies left and right testing the idea, and achieving promising results from it, employees and employers alike may stand to benefit greatly from a wider adoption of this new concept. Some specific benefits that a 4-day work week gleans for organizations include:
- Increase in Productivity – it is well-known that an overworked employee is much less productive than an employee working a reasonable number of hours each week. Perpetual Guardian’s introduction of the 4-day work week policy saw a decrease in employee stress levels from 45% to 38%. Similarly, the countries that yield the highest productivity statistics, including Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands, average around 27 hours a week, not the traditional 40 seen in five-day week structures.
- Equal Workplace – the introduction of a decreased workweek would provide employees the opportunity to better balance their work and life commitments. One of the largest contributors to the widened gap between employed female and male workers is the lack of flexible policies surrounding childcare. Most employees who take leave of absences are women needing time off for childcare. A 4-day work week would eliminate this gendered gap in available working hours, providing a more equitable approach to accommodating the familial needs of employees.
- Increase in Engagement – a shortened work week has the potential to boost employee satisfaction, morale, commitment, and overall engagement. While a happy workforce may seem like a far-off notion in the current times, providing flexibility in scheduling will do wonders for relieving employee stress levels that may be higher than usual right now. A 4-day work week also means employees are less likely to need stress or sick leave, since they have more time off that they can use to rest and recover. Resultingly, they can return to work ready to take on new challenges, even in times of disruption.
The Drawbacks of a 4-Day Work Week
While the arguments for a 4-day work week seem to keep rising, so too do the arguments against it. Many companies are avid in the belief that condensing the work done over five days into four will yield significantly more negative results for your organization than positive ones. While flexibility in how you go about structing a shortened work week is critical, and it can be adapted and adjusted to the needs and demands of your business, there will always be potential drawbacks to adopting a new, unfamiliar management practice. Some of the key arguments against the idea of a 4-day work week include:
- Good Statistics Indicate Poor Management – the shortened work week has picked up so much steam largely because of the benefits it has yielded for the companies who dove head-first into the new model of work. However, if a company is reporting significant changes in their waste and efficiency statistics and are closing gaps only because they condensed their week, it could be argued this speaks negatively to their existing management system itself. If the firms were properly managed from the beginning, some common-sense adjustments should not have produced such radical improvements in the company’s efficiency. It points to the potential of existing flaws, meaning the miraculous statistical changes circulating online in favour of the 4-day work week are not necessarily reliable.
- Skipping Workdays Benefits Your Competition – regardless of whether you see massive increases in employee satisfaction, the very possibility that an entire workday is now cut out from your schedule will seem extremely appealing to your competition. If they do not follow the trend themselves, they now have an entire day that they can dedicate to outperforming your organization. They may choose to contact your key clients and customers on a day where they won’t be able to get in touch with your employees.
- Shorter Workweeks are Industry-Specific – while it may seem like the entire world is exploring new workweek options, there are certain industries and jobs that will need to remain operational within their current workweek structure. A bus driver for example, cannot work extra to be able to take next Friday off, just as a hotel maid cannot condense five days of cleaning rooms into four. Because of their job design and industry, there are some jobs that simply cannot be condensed into four days, meaning a rapid adoption of a four-day work week can only be leveraged by certain industries.
Above All Else, Your Employees Want Flexibility
The newfound trend of a shortened workweek has kicked up a storm of debates in the business world, and for good reason. Any new, seemingly radical idea of how to manage a company will cause some disruption, but when placed into a context of global uncertainty and unfamiliarity, the pros and cons are dissected under the world’s microscope. While a 4-day work week may seem like a radical change to introduce in such times, it may be useful to examine how well it would suit your organization. The arguments for and against shorter work weeks are abundant, but as a leader, it is up to you to have the final say in what approach will truly benefit your employees and company in the long-term.