The four-day workweek is no longer a utopian concept. Thanks to the success of multiple global trials and the rapid deployment of AI, companies offering a four-day workweek now include tech heavyweights like Microsoft and Amazon alongside neighborhood mom-and-pop stores.
The incentives are clear – from improved mental health to bolstered productivity, its benefits are both practical and personal. This doesn’t mean implementing a four-day workweek comes without challenges. Not every company is cut out for working compressed hours, and this potentially revolutionary new way of working can actually have an adverse impact on employee well-being and profitability if implemented poorly.
To help you avoid common pitfalls, this guide offers advice on getting it right – with the help of HR professionals, academics, and business owners who have recently joined the four-day workweek movement. Read on to find out if your business is ready to drop a working day, and how it can become a reality in seven simple steps.
Why Should Businesses Operate a 4-Day Workweek?
Trimming down the workweek and expanding leisure time unsurprisingly benefits employees in myriad ways. Recent research from the University of Cambridge found condensing the 40-hour workweek into 32 decreased levels of stress by 39%, and cases of burnout by 71%, while also having a positive impact on sleep quality and physical health.
It's not just employees that should be calling for a three-day weekend. Reducing the workweek can bring a lot of benefits to companies too.
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Happier and better-rested workers are more likely to perform better and call in fewer sick days, with 95% of the businesses that took place in the UK's Four-Day Week Global trial seeing productivity stabilize or grow throughout the pilot and revenue growing by an average of 35%.
“We have had zero employees resign in nearly two years, which is pretty unheard of for early-stage startups, that typically have higher rates of turnover.” – Founder of software startup Super and four-day workweek advocate, Lindsay Liu
Due to its resounding popularity among workers, companies implementing a four-day workweek are more likely to retain staff and attract top talent in the first place, as being seen to be at the forefront of this progressive workplace trend is great PR for organizations. Four-day workweeks aren't a silver bullet, though, and won't be conducive to every type of business, as we explore next.
1. Check if a 4-Day Workweek Is Right for Your Business
The harsh reality is a four-day workweek won't work for every business. Before you begin rolling out your pilot, you need to establish whether scaling back working hours is actually realistic for your business.
For industries that provide 24/7 hour support like transportation and healthcare, the arrangements won't be suitable for obvious reasons. Hospitality businesses like retail stores, restaurants, and bars also tend to be bound to more traditional schedules to meet consumer demands.
“Does the four-day workweek 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.” – Cat Goulbourne, HR and Recruitment Manager at SEOMG!
Large organizations may also be held back by bureaucratic challenges and the scale and complexity of the project. However, according to a survey by the open-access journal Open Access Government, 22% of UK workers claimed they were simply too busy to condense their workload into four eight-hour days, while others had too many meetings in their schedule.
With these hurdles in mind, before you steam ahead it may be a good idea to ask yourself these questions:
- Does your workforce have a track record of consistently hitting targets under pressure?
- Are all roles in your company capable of being flexible?
- Is your business capable of dealing with complicated time and people management?
- Are you able to reduce the quantity or length of team meetings?
- Will your business be able to reduce working hours while still meeting customer expectations?
If the answer to most of those questions was no, it's likely your company isn't ready to cut down its workweek just yet. We'd communicate this choice with your workforce anyway, while being as transparent about your decision-making process as possible. If most of your answers were affirmative, move on to the next tip.
2. Define Your Businesses Goals
Think you're cut out for a four-day workweek? Congratulations! Now you need to decide what you want to get out of the arrangement.
Most companies that have successfully brought down working hours have done so with specific goals in mind. Whatever “success” means to your business – whether it be employee happiness, productivity, or staff retention – your goals should align with these priorities.
“Define the goals and objectives of the trial period. Are you aiming to improve work-life balance, boost productivity, or reduce operational costs?” – Eric Sornoso, CEO of food delivery service Mealfan.
The rest of your strategy will depend on these objectives, so make sure you use SMART goals that are time-based, specific, and measurable. Don't create them in a vacuum, either. Establish an open dialogue with all levels of your company to gain a consensus on desired outcomes, timetable preferences, and levels of commitment.
3. Make Practical and Legal Considerations
Launching a four-day workweek can be exciting, but you need to make sure you follow all the checks and balances before taking the plunge. This includes taking stock of the job roles in your company, and making sure every single one is suitable for a condensed week. If certain workers are dealing with heavier workloads, the roles will need to be redesigned to ensure the pilot is accessible to everyone.
If you employ part-time employees, you'll need to work out how this transition will work for them too. There are two main routes you can take – reducing their hours worked in a week by 20% to align with the reduction for those on full-time hours, or increasing their pay proportionately. The changes you agree on now are likely to have long-term implications for the worker and your bottom line so make sure they're properly considered.
“Organizations must be no less mindful of legal obligations during a four-day workweek when compared to more typical scheduling arrangements. Wage and hour laws will still apply to a four-day workweek.” – Robert Bird, business law Professor at the University of Connecticut
Employers will also need to make sure they adhere to local and federal working laws. Policies like overtime, paid time off, and vacation days are all likely to be affected by the switch so it may be wise to consult with an employment lawyer before setting anything in stone.
4. Agree on a 4-Day Workweek Schedule
There's no right or wrong way to switch to a four-day workweek. When it comes to drawing up your schedule, it really depends on the unique needs of your business and the preferences of your employees. With this in mind, here are some popular four-day work schedules to consider:
1. No Fridays or Mondays
Since a major appeal of working compressed hours is extended weekends, most companies choose to drop Fridays or Mondays from the working schedule. Choosing one day for everyone ensures works the same core hours. However, it doesn't offer flexibility for employees or lend itself well to industries that deliver goods or services on an ongoing basis.
2. Flexible days off
If it's conducive to your business, it also may be worth considering implementing a flexible schedule. Flexible 4-day schedules allow workers to take time off when it best suits them. This could include staggered starting times, early finishing times, as well as the typical four days on, one day off.
“Set expectations for certain hours when everyone must be available, and grant autonomy for the rest of their time. Doing so will help ensure that everyone is on the same page while still allowing for flexibility.” – Jack, HR Manager at ExpenseOnDemend
3. The 4-10 model
Finally, if compressing hours worked isn't an option for your business, but you still want to benefit from a three-day weekend a 4-10 workweek might work best for you.
Ideal for businesses with heavier workloads, the 4-10 model refers to working 10-hour days for four days a week. It's a solid way to get a taste of the four-day week without risking sacrificing hours worked. However, note that with productivity rates typically dropping off after the eighth hour of the working day, and some states enforcing daily overtime laws, it definitely won't be right for everyone.
After you've agreed on your schedule, you'll need to communicate it with your team and with external clients and stakeholders. Make sure you do this al least a month in advance to avoid any confusion or scheduling clashes.
5. Launch Your 4-Day Workweek Pilot
You've done the hard work and made the tough calls. Now you need to launch your four-day pilot.
To give your trial the best possible chance of succeeding, you'll need to learn how to manage your remaining hours effectively. For many businesses, this will mean evaluating the value of meetings, and scaling them back if necessary. Establishing ‘non-meeting days' is also a great way to allow for periods of uninterrupted, deep work.
When you choose to launch your pilot is important too. Opting for a quieter time takes a bit of pressure off employees, as John Lin, owner of Philadelphia-based JB Motor Works told us. When recently rolling out the four-day pilot for his business, Lin chose a slow period in his business cycle. “This helped to gauge the impact without too much risk”, Lin explained.
It's also important to remember that problems will undoubtedly arise throughout this period and that this is completely normal. Addressing these issues as they happen and learning from them will help strengthen your plan before it's implemented for real.
6. Assess The Success of Your Pilot
After your four-day workweek pilot comes to an end, you'll need to assess its results.
To do so you'll need to compare data collected throughout the pilot and compare it to data from your typical four-day workweek. This information will help you to see how successful your pilot was at meeting your original goals.
Aside from quantitative metrics measuring the pilot's impact on productivity and profit margins, it's also important to gather qualitative findings from employees. This can be obtained through feedback surveys and in-person interviews and will help you to evaluate the success of the trial as a whole.
As John Lin tells us: “The best way to assess the success of the trial is multi-faceted.”
“It doesn't solely rely on productivity metrics such as the number of cars serviced, but also team morale, retention rates, and customer satisfaction levels. It's a qualitative and quantitative process that requires open dialogue with the team on a regular basis”. – John Lin, owner of Philadelphia-based JB Motor Works
7. Set Your 4-Day Workweek Into Motion
If you're happy with the results of your trial, well done! It's time to officially implement your four-day workweek.
Right off the bat, you should communicate this success internally and externally to set expectations and prepare everyone for the next steps. Then you need to embed the four-day practices into your company culture. This means preventing old habits from creeping in and embracing the arrangement as part of your company image.
This process doesn't stop here though. To ensure this transition is successful in the long run, collecting employee feedback through surveys, in-person interviews, or focus groups is a must. If your workforce has strong opinions about the rollout, or needs amendments to be made, it's important for employers to act on this fast as well.
It's also imperative that employees don't drop the ball. Working a four-day week is a privilege, and just because the trial is over doesn't mean it's time to take the foot off the pedal. Rather than pushing staff to work overtime, building a culture of accountability and trust is a far more effective way to maintain productivity in the long term.
Rolling out a four-day week isn't light work, and employers need to be aware of this before taking the idea seriously. It's a process that requires continual trial and error and can sometimes take years to perfect.
“The bottom line is that implementing a four-day workweek isn't an exact science, it's a dance that pairs the unique dynamics of your business with the need to maintain or increase productivity.” – Wendy Wang, owner of four-day workweek company F&J Outdoor
However, navigating these challenges is a small price to pay for a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce. With several US states supporting four-day workweek trials and pledging support to the companies that decide to launch them, now is as good a time as any to take the plunge.