By now, you’ve probably heard all the chatter extolling the eye-popping benefits of a four-day workweek. Increased revenue? Higher employee satisfaction?
A 32-hour workweek with no dips in productivity? Seemingly every report indicates that the four-day workweek experiments are an overwhelming success. It certainly feels like the beginning of a massive shift in how we work. But is it right for everyone? Let’s dive deep and find out.
If you’ve followed the reporting on the four-day workweek experiments, this shift feels like a runaway train where the only reasonable question is, “When do we board?” Run by the non-profit 4 Day Week Global, every new report comes along with a similar narrative. The employees love it, productivity remains the same or higher, and it’s been a high-powered talent magnet for companies that have participated in these trials. Participants run the gamut from large to small businesses across several industries.
So should we all just take the leap into a four-day workweek? Well, as with any massive change, you should really think about it first. Success rates were high but not 100%. As you weigh the possibilities of a four-day workweek, you must start with your specific situation. Would this impact how you conduct business and satisfy your customers? If so, are there variations that make more sense for your company? Hesitancy is expected here, but given the potential upside, it’s worth considering whether the way you’ve always worked is best.
In this week’s blog, we’ll look at the history of the five-day workweek, the benefits of a four-day workweek, and some potential drawbacks to this possible paradigm shift.
Why do we have a five-day workweek?
Most take the five-day workweek for granted at this point, as if it’s simply the natural way of things. But that’s not the case. First, we’ll take you briefly back to the Industrial Revolution when workers routinely spent 70 to 100 hours in a factory, six days a week. As you might imagine, that situation became untenable for workers, who organized to demand better working conditions and hours.
Eventually, Henry Ford became one of the first employers to see the benefit of a 40-hour workweek. In his case, the shortened workweek paired with higher standard wages meant more people could afford a Model T. Instead of using fewer hours to pay workers less money, he used them to build out his middle-class customer base. In doing so, he set the stage for critically examining the relationship between working hours and productivity.
The five-day workweek has been an official American standard since 1938, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the FLSA into law, guaranteeing a 44-hour workweek. Not long after, the government amended the law to the 40-hour workweek we still use today. It served American workers and businesses well for a long time as the country developed into an economic powerhouse.
However, new challenges and advantages have emerged that might be putting this framework into question. Only 32% of employees in the United States consider themselves engaged at work. Burnout rates soared during the pandemic, and they hardly seem to be cooling down. Though the five-day workweek can’t be the sole reason for these trends, it’s worth examining whether 40-hour, 5-day weeks are necessary and effective in today’s working world. Perhaps your answer is an empathic ‘yes,’ but we encourage you to at least ask the question.
What are the benefits of a four-day workweek?
First, let’s define the four-day workweek proposal. In this situation, businesses pay their employees 100% of their salary for 100% of their usual output over 80% of the hours. That means paychecks stay the same, but 32 hours constitute a week instead of 40. Critically, you’re not paying for less productivity. The idea is that the same amount of work or more gets done in less time.
In exchange, businesses typically increased or equaled previous levels of productivity. For example, Microsoft Japan conducted a trial in 2019 and saw a 40% increase in productivity. Additionally, over the trial period in Four Day Week Global’s global study, businesses saw 8.14% increases in revenue. Compared to the same six-month period the previous year, revenue was 37.55% higher.
How is that possible? Well, first, employees became significantly more discerning with their calendars. They cut out unnecessary meetings and structured their days to ensure they got the most done with their time. Most found they didn’t need to rush to achieve necessary results in the reduced schedule.
Another piece of the productivity puzzle is that employees were happier and healthier. 67% of Four Day Week participants reported decreased burnout. Only 16% of employees felt the stress of a compact schedule, 32% felt less stressed, and the rest reported no change. Job satisfaction improved, which could help businesses reduce costly turnover rates. Moreover, employees noted mental and physical health improvements, which led to a more engaged workforce on the job and cost savings for healthcare. Even the environment got in on the fun by reducing carbon emissions associated with commuting.
Given that businesses everywhere are looking for competitive advantages to break through a quasi-recession landscape, it may feel counterintuitive to cut working hours. Frankly, a four-day workweek might not fit every business in every industry.
However, those who can accommodate the change could have a serious leg up in attracting and retaining top talent in an increasingly frustrating talent market. One participant summed it up nicely by saying, “The 4-day workweek is equivalent to a 25% pay bump, in my opinion.”
What questions linger about the four-day workweek?
The benefits are clear, and they’re admittedly exciting. However, there are notable drawbacks as well. First, implementing this would require seriously creative staffing practices to get things off the ground. For example, if you’re a service-based company, and your clients are used to five-day access, staffing adjustments will be needed to maintain consistent coverage.
Some businesses on the trials have deviated from the typical “Friday-off” approach to ensure seamless staffing. In those cases, they stay open five days a week with staggered employee schedules. However, that could mean your team has less support than they’re accustomed to on certain days.
While many reported not feeling extra pressure to finish their work in a shorter timeframe, that wasn’t the case for everyone. Instead, many felt rushed, which negates the potential mental health benefits and could even impact the quality of work. Circumstances play a heavy role in success, and if companies don’t adjust their day-to-day with the new schedule in mind, it won’t work.
Additionally, attempts to formalize a 32-hour workweek have been met with warranted doubt. A bill by Maryland legislators for their state ultimately failed to pass due to those concerns. One lawmaker said, “The practicality of a 32-hour workweek is really, really hard to get people — my generation and above — to discuss or think about.”
They aren’t alone. While the results of these trials are encouraging, people might need more time to interrogate their value before accepting them. Perhaps certain industries will prove less natural fits than others. Issues will emerge that we can’t possibly predict today, but the same can be said for any change of this size.
Not sure if it’s right for your business? Ask ADDA!
To be clear, we don’t consider ourselves four-day workweek activists, nor do we have one ourselves. Healthy skepticism is warranted when considering such a massive adjustment. However, if you believe it could be suitable for your business, there are many processes and policies you’ll need to update for a successful trial. ADDA’s experts can help you make the necessary organizational adjustments to reap the benefits of a four-day workweek.
Contact us here today to get started with your plan.