Does the 4-Day Workweek Work for Everybody?

by Pranav Ramesh
March 16, 2023

Nearly 3000 employees, across 61 companies, took part in the pilot program recently, to research the efficacy of a 4-day workweek. The results of this (ongoing) program have led to a lot of conversation amongst HR and leadership circles over the last few weeks. 

The results have been largely positive. 

  • A majority of these companies have reported higher levels of employee engagement, job satisfaction, and in some cases, improved revenue.  
  • 56 of the 61 companies say they will continue to implement the program once the pilot ends. 
  • Similar programs being conducted in other countries—Australia, Belgium, Spain, and the US—have reported positive outcomes 

That’s great news for anyone looking for alternate work models to implement in their organizations. As employers, we have another tool in the workplace toolkit, one that has proven benefits. 

But the debate cannot end here. While the 4-day work model is a viable option for some firms, it’s not for everybody. Ultimately, we must stress test the hypothesis and come to a bulletproof conclusion before widespread adoption is possible.  

The future of work needs a new approach 

“The 4-day workweek is not a silver bullet, but it is a powerful tool to help companies meet the challenges of the 21st century.” – Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp 

The success of this experiment has made one thing clear—the old ways of working just don’t cut it anymore. To a workforce that is exhausted from two years under lockdown and uncertain about the impact of return-to-office policies, the “19th-century factory” approach appears outdated. There is a new normal and as employers, we need to adapt to it.  

Which is why the debate around the 4-day or 5-day week shouldn’t just be limited to how many days we need to be working. There is a larger conversation to be had here, one that is inclusive of the changing needs of workplaces. This isn’t just a conversation about long weekends; it’s about productivity, flexibility, and engagement.  

I want to highlight some genuine takeaways thrown up by this debate that we should all be paying attention to: 

 

  • The way we measure productivity has to change.  

Thus far the emphasis has been on the number of hours worked, rather than the quality of the output. That needs to change. The success of the 4-day model shows that the quality of output is not directly proportional to the quantity of time spent at work.  

If companies working fewer days can achieve the same (if not better) level of result as working an extra day, it begs the question— How is productivity being measured? 

Perhaps, that extra day is better spent working towards professional, learning and development goals. Or this is an indication that too much time is being wasted in ancillary activities—attending multiple meetings in a day, for example—that is better spent focused on the tasks at hand.  

Whatever the solution, there is an urgent need to reexamine the factors that are impacting our current levels of productivity. 

(Operating in a virtual workspace? Use these 5 Ways to Enhance Productivity and Engagement in a Virtual Work Environment to improve your productivity metrics!)

  • Introducing new ways of making the workplace flexible is a net positive. 

Naturally, not all jobs can be done remotely, or from home. Healthcare professionals, for example, are needed in a hospital. There are also significant security concerns surrounding highly remote jobs. However, this does not preclude building a more flexible workplace.   

The rising conversation around a shorter workweek makes it clear that the current 9-5, 5 days a week system may be outdated. This is something we realized when we went remote during the pandemic and still managed to function efficiently. 

Ultimately, being more flexible will be a net positive for everybody. Employers will be able to create more attractive workplaces and employees will have more options with their schedules. This includes options like hybrid and asynchronous work models. 

 

  • We need to take a serious look at employee engagement 

The recent Gartner Future of Work report places building human-centric workplaces at the core of their 2023 HR strategy, and for a very good reason.  

Across the recruitment industry we have been following a drop in employee engagement levels for the last few years, the pandemic notwithstanding, and HR leaders are waking up to the fact that organizations need to do more to attract and retain talent, or risk losing their best employees. 

If anything, the debate about the 4-day week further emphasizes a need for greater employee engagement.      

 

(For more insights into building a more engaged workforce, check out our article on How to Build Employee Empowerment in the Workplace)

The 4-Day Workweek is not for everyone 

“A 4-day workweek may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Different companies and industries have different needs and may require different approaches to work hours and flexibility.” – The Future of Work: A Journey to 2022, PwC 

I am still not completely sold on the idea of a 4-day workweek. I think it is a difficult-to-implement, somewhat exclusionary, workplace design that is limited to a small demographic and test group. Despite the positive outcomes from the recent trials, the 4-day week still feels overwhelmingly out of reach for a lot of people and industries. 

Much like the limited applications of remote working, the 4-day workweek works better in some sectors than others. Certain jobs like IT, corporate management, marketing, product development, and others, will be able to pivot to the new model quite quickly, depending on management styles.  

But other jobs—schoolteachers, healthcare professionals, retail and customer service reps—will not be able to realistically implement a 4-day workweek anytime soon.        

In addition to logistical and administrative issues, moving to a 4-day week can also have a significant negative impact on the way we work.  

 

  • Accelerated burnout 

Friday’s may feel like the least productive day of the week, as everyone waits for the weekend to begin but having a slow day contributes in a big way towards building a better relationship with your work. With a compressed 4-day schedule your team could end up facing burnout and exhaustion, in the long run. 

 

  • Higher overheads for employers  

Employers may be left shouldering additional costs to make up for the shorter week. For example, if businesses are still required to provide the same amount of output with fewer working hours, they may need to hire additional staff to pick up the slack.  

 

  • Administrative alignment may be a problem  

Unless the 4-day week is adopted uniformly across industries and businesses, it could present some serious obstacles for admin.  

It could become difficult to coordinate schedules with clients, customers, and suppliers who work a traditional 5-day week. This could result in reworked pay scales, missed deadlines, and frustration on all sides. Not to mention employees with children who may struggle to find childcare options on a non-standard work schedule. 

 

Conclusion 

Ask any recruiter and they will tell you that a 9-5 schedule doesn’t define their job. In order to deliver the best talent to our clients, and do it while adhering to tight deadlines, we need to be ready to turn on at a moment’s notice. Recruiting is a 24/7 job. In my profession, the 4-day workweek simply will not work.  

Recruitment is just one industry where a 4-day workweek doesn’t fit. Workers in key industries such as education and healthcare will never be able to move to a 4-day week. Additionally, there will always be workers, like in retail and hospitality, who would like to work more and earn more.  

No system is permanent. Before the Second World War it was common for workers to work 6-day weeks, and even today, it is not unusual in certain countries to work Saturdays. Just as the 5-day week gradually became the norm across the globe, thanks to changing needs and technology, it is possible that, in time, the 4-day week will be widely adopted. 

But before rushing to commit to any organizational changes, you need to weigh the pros and cons carefully and consider whether it’s a feasible option for your business and employees.   

About the author
Founder and President - Nick Shah PTechPartners IT Consulting CompanyNick Shah is the Founder and President of Peterson Technology Partners (PTP), Chicago’s premier IT staff augmentation agency. With his relationship-focused mentality and technical expertise, Nick has earned the trust of Chicago-based Fortune 100 companies for their technical staffing needs.

 

Connect with Nick Shah on Linkedin.

 

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