The 4 day work week has taken the world by storm with many businesses across the globe having trialed the system to measure its merits. Similar to the hybrid work model which is becoming the new norm over working from the office, a 4 day work week may transition into a reality for many employees.
The UK is continuing to extend its 4 day work week after it started a trial last June and has since reported a very positive experience. Similar support for the concept has been expressed in Australia, with Labor and Green senators backing the notion of a 32-hour week.
While workers are definitely in favour of the flexible workstyle, there are many questions surrounding the 4 day work week. Will business’ productivity suffer? Why would employers pay workers the same amount? How will it impact the relationship between businesses, consumers and suppliers?
Let’s have a look at the details of the 4 day work week concept before delving into the rest.
What Is a 4 Day Work Week?
The 4 Day work week is a concept undergoing trial which reduces the standard 40 hour work week into 32 hours. This means employees work 8 less hours than normal and enjoy a three day weekend.
The 5 day work week has been the standard baseline and played a structure role on how society operates for more than 100 years when Henry Ford championed the concept. However, as the world progresses towards flexible work solutions, the fabric of work is also beginning to adjust based on worker demands.
The 4 day work week has been trialed across the globe, with Iceland being a leader as it tested the concept during 2015 to 2019. Not only has the country implemented the 4 day work week to 9 to 5 jobs, but also to hospitals, schools and social service workers. According to The Conversation, the concept has been applied to 86% of the country’s workforce.
Other countries which are trialing the 4 day work week include Belgium, UK, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Japan, New Zealand. US, Canada and some businesses in Australia.
Now that artificial intelligence is making leaps and bounds in how useful it can be across various industries, the concern of a gap in productivity is being filled. Flexible workspace solutions such as coworking spaces, virtual offices and serviced offices are becoming popular amidst the 4 day work week concept.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the advantages of a 4 day work week.
The Benefits of a 4 Day Work Week
The 4 day work week hasn’t been around long enough for experts to understand the long-term effects it may bring, but based of the current trials there are numerous benefits.
If employees are working 20% less than normal, then do businesses lose productivity? There are several studies which suggest this isn’t the case and working reduced hours promotes productivity, whilst also decreasing employee mistakes.
Studies suggest that a 4 day work week allows workers to recover faster from fatigue, which is a primary contributor towards a productive employee. It would be correct to argue that a marginal increase in productivity isn’t enough to compensate for the loss of an entire day, and the change would need to be supported by many businesses along with government policies to make it possible.
As a numerical form, businesses are reporting either sustained productivity or an increase by 10%.
Working overtime hours and finding a second job has created a tiring work culture amongst people. During the pandemic we witnessed a large amount of employees experiencing burnout syndrome and not long after the Great Resignation showed us that workers are more aware and concerned about their health – with people quitting in mass if not satisfied with their job.
While employees are present at work, many are feeling significantly less engaged with their tasks which creates the dilemma of present yet absent. The employee is present but their lack of willingness to work is match the same productivity of someone which is absent – except in this case, it’s also effecting people on a mental health level.
The ABC had completed a recent study which unveiled that workplace mental illness costs the economy $17.4 billion and the 4 day work week has a good chance of reducing this number. Many essential services and businesses close after 5PM, which makes it difficult for a white-collar worker to do anything on a weekday.
Freeing up a weekday helps workers live a little and doesn’t make the weekend time which is spent to do chores.
There are a few studies which suggest the 4 day work week may be able to reduce our carbon footprint and benefit the environment. A report named Stop the Clock found that UK’s carbon footprint can be reduced by 21.3% if the 4 day work week became standardised, and that’s not a number to bat your eyelids at.
Assuming the entire office is empty on the same day, large amounts of electricity can be saved and fewer cars will be on the road. Considering around 15.3 million people in the UK drive themselves to work every day, the 4 day work week would be a positive change for the environment.
It’s not just the employees winning during a 4 day work week, it’s also business owners. Reduced electricity usage is not only an environmental benefit, but also reduces costs for businesses.
Businesses spend a fortune on electricity and inflation has made the price marginally worse. Because of an ongoing energy crisis, businesses in the UK have been hit the hardest by electricity costs and day-to-day operations have become challenging.
Although it’s only one day per week, the 4 day work week can help businesses save on costs.
The Disadvantages of a 4 Day Work Week
Unfortunately, the 4 day work week hasn’t existed long enough in many countries to understand the long term ramifications.
Research suggests that all initial productivity boosts almost completely disappear within 25 months of following the 4 day work week. Because humans are creatures of habit, the same story is applicable to morale improvements, in which the normalcy of a 4 day work week will make the newness of it quickly fade away.
If a 4 day work week were to become standardised, it would require a comprehensive strategy and guidelines. An extra day off shouldn’t equate to longer hours in the office and higher stress levels to compensate for the 4 day work week. If anything, this will lead to burnout and perform the opposite desired effect of the 4 day work week.
The strategic insight becomes key when deciding which day of the week is allocated as an additional day off. Monday’s and Friday’s may be highly contested days, hence deciding the extra weekend day per team member is quite the challenge.
A 4 day work week, but the same pay?
Most businesses will struggle to rationalise why salaries should remain the same if employees are working 8 hours less. Those which are uncertain about the productivity improvements are even less likely to pay the same wage.
Is it a risk worth running for most business? Hard to say.
It’s not for everyone
The corporate industry can pull off the 4 day work week but there are many sectors where the concept isn’t viable.
Retail, hospitality, nurses, teachers and other emergency sectors which are already understaffed will not benefit from the 4 day work week. The disparity of unbalanced work benefits may prevent the 4 day work week from becoming universal.
What’s the Quick Fix?
Trial the 4 day work week with your most trusted team members before rolling it out across the entire company. Create guidelines, strategy and metrics that you will use to determine if it was a success – but most importantly, make it short term.
If research suggests a 4 day work week excels over a shorter term, then be creative and use it to your advantage. Consider alternating months between a standard week and a 4 day work week, alternate every week etc. There are many options and businesses which create a strategy and incorporate a measurable means to determine its success will thank themselves later.