The 4-Day Workweek

In my company, we recently decided, perhaps as a new year resolution, to experiment what’s generally called the 4-day Workweek. This consists for workers in working 4 days (or 28 hours) a week and still get paid for 5 days (or 35 hours). Some might say “WTF, where do I sign” or “What’s the point” and others can also be very sceptical, it’s normal, let’s break this down:

Work less to be more productive

A lot of studies show how workers are actually little productive due to stress, fatigue and distractions (social media for instance) which turn as a vicious circle over time and makes them less productive, less motivated and less happy at work.

So the idea is to reduce stress and fatigue with more time for personal life (friends, family, hobbies) while maintaining performances due to better motivation, satisfaction and focus. Worker’s goals remain the same: delivering productivity and meet objectives.

Of course, this kind of time arrangement doesn’t work everywhere or could result in huge organisational challenges but I believe (thanks covid-19) that work is in most cases becoming more digitalised and remote. Therefore flexible arrangements are actually easier to achieve in 2021. I also believe it should be part of an opt-in policy to let people choose what works best for them. Beside the 4-day workweek, trust, transparency, freedom and flexibility is actually a first good step to improve work environments.

The worker perspective

Alright, so better morale comes with a better work-life balance and having a day off a week will automatically increase you life style in different domains:

  • Physical: You can use this time off to rest, take a nap or do physical exercises
  • Social: This is the occasion to spend more time with friends and family, get more involve in your kids education or give time to a charity helping others in need.
  • Entertainment: Practice a hobby, read books or watch movies you like

Another important point is about reducing stress. When working during traditional hours (Monday-Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm) in a city, every little tasks become challenging and stressful because of congestion (everywhere!). This day off is the occasion during the week to do stuffs without stress outside rush hours such as shopping, appointments or take a cheap flight on a Friday morning.

Finally, for passionate workers like me, this can be the occasion to improve your professional life spending more time learning, reading and writing. You can also experiment things that are more or less related to your work or industry by building proof of concepts, inventing theories, or preparing a presentation to share your thoughts to your coworkers on the 4-day workweek ;)

The business perspective

We just saw this is definitely valuable for workers but what about businesses. This ultimate ambition behind a system like this is to improve productivity. First you need of course to be able to measure the productivity of your business (objectives, sales, etc.). It also helps workers to reconsider priorities on important matters and reward quality over quantity.

Reorganising a business and the people to offer one day off a week has also for consequence to force workers to be non-essential as an individual. What is essential is the job and the responsibilities so it is never healthy to give too much responsibilities to a single employee and risk him burnout and risk the business at the same time. In comparison, good organisations have backup plans where responsibilities are shared within teams and force people to think for the company rather than themselves (success is often due to the synergy of a group of people, not a single man).

Finally, improving work-life quality has some indirect consequences reducing the number of sick days (job stress, lack of motivation, burnout) and is also mathematically cost effective (cut down on office space requirements and potential overhead costs).

Other consequences and risks

We can also note some other interesting consequences to this system:

  • A Smaller Carbon Footprint: For on-site workers, the 4-day workweek decreases the number of trips home<->work per week.
  • Reduce unemployment: Reducing work time could be a solution to reduce unemployment if employers decide to fill open hours with new employees (Of course, this doesn’t account for salaries).
  • Economic Boost (covid-19): The 4-day week could also be a solution to boost the post-pandemic economy enabling people to spend more while working the same.

But, let’s also mention some possible risks implementing a system like this:

  • Compressed hours instead of reducing: Some employees could decide to work more hours per day to compensate but in most cases, this would actually decrease the level of productivity. To achieve a desired effect, a 7 hours day is the golden standard.
  • Disorganization: You business needs to carry on and if badly implemented, your business could suffer from it (lack of workers during some period of the week, decreased customer satisfaction).

Conclusion

In conclusion, this 4-day workweek is nothing new. While already established in some well-known countries for their great work-life balance (New-Zealand, Sweden), it’s still far being adopted in other countries.

Despite the many advantages mentioned in this article, the success of it seems to be determined by the acceptance of some sort of new paradigm in the mindset of the workers: Team spirit, focus on quality over quantity and work always in the interests of the company.

I will be happy to share more insights about this experiment in the next few weeks and see if effectively we achieve better productivity within my team.

References