growing case for a 4-day work week

The Growing Case for a 4-Day Work Week

Over 4 million American workers have quit their jobs every month for the past 10 months, so it appears that The Great Resignation is still going strong. The reasons varied, but one thing one clear: Americans were fed up with the status quo at their current company or position. Today, 44% of Americans label themselves as jobseekers — regardless of current employment. The overarching idea is employee morale and burnout. After the time off during COVID, employees are seeking greener pastures on the other side of the fence, or at least they’d like to. And that’s what makes the 4-day work week such an intriguing option.

Remote or onsite, a 4-day work week provides a three-day weekend and the type of flexibility and work-life balance that workers are looking for. While old-school employers may see a shorter work week as a loss in productivity, arguments continue to mount for the opposition. So whether you’re a jobseeker, employer, or employee, the 4-day work week is on the verge of commonplace.

What Is a 4-Day Work Week?

Misinformation abounds about what a 4-day work week actually entails. Is it four eight-hour days or four 10-hour days? It’s not an easy question to answer and it depends on who you ask. The 9-to-5 employer would assert that a change to this shorter work week would entail four 10-hour days, while the worker would insist on four eight-hour days.

One example is the New Zealand office of Unilever. In 2021, the international conglomerate rolled out a 4-day, 32-hour work week to attract top talent and maximize productivity.

“Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time. We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”

Nick Bangs, Managing Director, Unilever

That may seem like a hard pill to swallow for industrious American companies. Astonishingly, workers at Unilever were able to reach their deadlines in a 32-hour time frame. This essentially cut time waste and in-office socialization for the opportunity to have a three-day weekend. Moreover, New Zealand is a country where 88% of workers are either satisfied or extremely satisfied with their full-time jobs compared to just 65% in the U.S.

If the proof is in the pudding, then a 4-day work week can certainly function, but only if management and workers believe in the system. This means tighter deadlines for workers and added pressure for managers. Yet if it means a three-day weekend, a shorter work week may just be the answer to burnout and stress.

The Benefits of a 4-Day Work Week

The 4-day work week has plenty of contrarians, but any change in the status quo is sure to have naysayers. As such, the idea has to yield real-world results and benefits. The sample size is relatively small, but companies that have changed to a shorter work week have shown great results.

checkmark icon Increased Productivity

Whether a company switches to a 4-day work week for 32 hours or 40 hours a week, productivity appears to increase. This embodies the idea of Parkinson’s Law. This management principle states that work expands to fill the time allotted for the task. For example, if a company gives a worker a task and eight hours to do it, the worker will take the full eight hours to complete the task, regardless of the amount of time it actually takes.

In a real-world example, Microsoft allowed its Japanese offices to take a four-day work week and reported a 40% increase in productivity. The underlying idea of why this worked to perfection is all theoretical. But the basic idea was that the allure of a 3-day weekend encouraged employees to work harder and faster to achieve the same goal they could in a five-day work week.

checkmark icon Decreased Overhead

Another major advantage of the 4-day work week is that companies can cut their overhead by 20%. With one less day in the office, that’s 20% less to spend on office supplies, water, sewer, power, and other necessities. Employees also benefited from this arrangement by reducing commute times, as well as the costs of gasoline and car maintenenance.

Even in a remote work arrangement, a shorter work week boosts employee morale, improves company culture, and lowers turnover. While these may not seem like overhead expenses, consider the cost of turnover. If an employee quits, training a new worker can cost up to $4,000, while lost productivity, onboarding, and a loss of expertise can cost up to 1.5 to 2 times the salary of the employee who leaves.

The Pitfalls of the 4-Day Work Week

Every argument needs to have a steady look at the other side of the dispute. In the case of the 4-day work week, the cons are certainly valid. Whether they outweigh the benefits isn’t exactly apparent, but it warrants consideration.

warning icon Added Stress

Above all else, the major detractor from the 4-day work week is added stress. Whether a company shortens its work week to 32 hours or remains at 40 hours, stress can mount as deadlines loom. Exacerbating the problem is workers who’ve never performed on such tight deadlines before. Workers fail to meet deadlines for a variety of reasons, and to this effect, shortening the work week may only compound the problem.

For success, management needs to take a proactive role in training its employees — including time management, critical thinking, problem solving, and assertiveness — to properly implement a shorter work week. However, the upfront cost of training may be balanced by the increase in productivity and a happier workforce.

warning icon Lack of Customer Satisfaction

If you’ve ever needed customer service only to find that offices are closed or there’s no one to help you, you feel extraordinarily frustrated. This issue is only compounded by a shorter work week. Regardless of your product or business model, the customer is your main source of revenue and repeat business. With no employees in the office or virtual office three days a week, this can turn into a serious issue.

As a result, companies and managers must assess the needs of their customers before turning to a 4-day work week. Whether the resolution is to have customer service working a normal schedule or select employees working five days, management needs to maintain realistic expectations in the face of 4-day work week adversity.

Looking Forward to the 3-Day Weekend

Whether you believe in a 4-day work week or not, the obvious benefit is a three-day weekend. Few people can argue against the upside of three days to do whatever you want — whether manager, employer, employee, freelancer, contractor, or any other position. If you can trim 1/5 of your work week and maintain productivity, the rest is semantics. The only thing left to do is decide what you’re going to do with the next Friday off.

Would you consider a 4-day work week, whether it was 8-hour days or 10-hour days? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you! 

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