An increasing number of companies are offering a 4-day work week, but is it really better and is the model right for your business? Here's what you should know if you're considering a four-day work week trial, based on the experience of a company that's successfully implemented one.
The buzz around the progressive workplace trend has really taken off this year, after various trials returned impressive results and some US states started moving towards a 4-day work week entirely. However, shortening the number of days your company works isn't guaranteed to be a success, and as clear as some of the advantages of a four-day work week are, there are a number of things you need to consider before taking the jump.
To really understand the pros and cons of the four-day work week, we attended a keynote by Cat Goulbourne, HR and Recruitment Manager at UK-based SEO agency SEOMG!, which has introduced a four-day week and has never looked back. As well as appreciating the complexities of the four-day week from an employer and managerial position, she has personal experience of how one can benefit employees, having suffered from chronic illness and burn out in the past.
With the mental health and physical well-being of employees never more important than it is today, let's take a look at if a four-day work week is the “game changer” your business needs.
4-Day Work Week: Pros, Cons and Key Points
Before we go into more detail, let's take an overview of the four-day work week, what is has to offer, and what common pitfalls you should be aware of, according to Goulbourne, before diving head first into the new way of working.
Here are the key four-day work week benefits:
- Better physical and mental health
- Fewer sick days filed
- Improved staff retention
- Positive impact on recruitment and company PR
- Employees save money on travel
- Staff independently upskill in free time
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Businesses should also be aware of the main challenges of implementing a four-day work week, which are:
- Team and project collaboration is harder
- 5-day week still the global standard
- Many companies expected to offer 5-day service
- Planning brings new complexities, e.g. staff schedules and holidays
- Attract some questionable applicants
- Failed trials undermine staff morale
Now, let's dive a little deeper and look at the benefits of a four-day work week in more detail.
4-Day Work Week: Benefits and Advantages
There are clear advantages to a four-day work week for both workers and their bosses. What's really interesting to note is how closely the two are linked.
For employees, the main benefits of a four-day work week are improved health and mental well-being. This because it provides additional time to get life admin done, which if neglected can cause stress, as well as for things like physical exercise and rest in general.
In turn, this helps employers, as healthy and well-rested staff are less likely to take sick days, while happy employees are less likely to leave the company. There are also less obvious benefits, such as saving employees money.
“As a chronically ill person, I cannot tell you life-changing it is, not to have to take leave to attend a hospital appointment I have no choice over,” Goulborne says in her keynote, adding, “The less obvious things are helping the cost of living. If you are someone who has young children, and you are home one more day a week, that’s one less day of childcare.”
Moreover, the buzz around four-day work weeks doesn't just help retain staff, it helps attract the best talent in the first place, as being seen to be at the forefront of this progressive workplace trend is great PR for organizations. It's also been proven time and time again that happy employees are the most productive ones, while managers might also find that staff with more free time on their hands are able to independently upskill as well as look after themselves.
The Challenges of a 4-Day Work Week
Of course, if the four-day work week was perfect, every company would be adopting it. While there is convincing evidence that the system works well for many, it's not a perfect fit for all. Goulbourne emphasizes that companies must be realistic about the suitability of a four-day work week at their business.
“Does the four-day work week work? Yes it does. But not for everyone. Some companies in some industries simply can't. You have to be prepared for the challenges. It adds a level of complexity you have to be aware of. Be really honest with yourself,” she says.
Goulbourne's experience suggests that the biggest challenge of a four-day work week is planning, and she notes that even in the convincing UK study, “100% [of participating companies] didn't say they were going to carry on with it.”
With the five-day week still standard in most countries and many industries, companies that want to adopt the four-day week need to assess if they can deliver their product in a shortened timeframe. In some cases, this just won't be possible. In others, it might be – but you'll still be responsible for providing a five day service in a four-day window.
In practice, this means more complicated time and people management – and most likely implementing some kind of staff schedule. You'll need to figure out how to ensure your business works a five day week, even if individual employees don't, and it's not easy ensuring the right personnel are working the right times on a reduced schedule. Holidays need to be staggered even more precisely in a four-day system, too, so it's far from a case of simply saying: “Everyone now gets Friday off!”
With teams getting less face time with each other, collaboration can also take a hit. The hours you shed in adopting a four-day week might well be at the expense of meetings or project standups. Having the right tools can help you stay on point and make life a whole lot easier, so consider if you're using the best project management software for your needs, as these kinds of solutions will be doubly important
While operating a four-day work week can be great for luring top talent away from competitors, it can also attract the wrong type of applicants. While many potential hires will be the kind of hard workers you want at your organization, Goulbourne warns that a handful will be “disingenuous” and “just want to work for you because you have a four-day week.”
4-Day Work Week: An Insider's Verdict
Listening to Goulbourne share her experience of a four-day work week, it's clear both how positive a change it can be, but also how important it is for businesses to be realistic about if the model is right for them.
This is because a failed four-day work week trial will be devastating for company morale, so she concludes “trying it and it not succeeding is going to be a lot worse” than not trying it at all.
“It is a great benefit for your employees, but there is nothing worse than jumping on a bandwagon when you haven't thought it through. Starting a trial and failing, it’s not a good way to go about it,” she explains.
As home truths go, it's one that's underlined by the current rush of companies ending fully remote work, often to disastrous effect for staff who have moved or taken on big commitments like pet ownership based on home working.
That's not to say that companies shouldn't try it. Just that those making the decisions need to know that U-turning in two years' time if the four-day week hype train slows down isn't acceptable.