In light of the Great Resignation, many employees are calling for a four-day workweek, and employers are considering it. Twenty-seven percent of business owners have already switched to a four-day workweek, while thirty-three percent are thinking about it, according to a recent survey from Digital.com.
Burnout is a major struggle for many organizations, and they’re looking for creative solutions to combat it. As it stands now, Americans work an average of 34 hours each week, which is only two hours longer than a four-day working week would cover.
Shorter workweeks would give employees an extra day to recharge over the weekend, helping them come back to work fresh and ready to meet their goals. Here are some of the ways company culture can thrive with a four-day workweek.
Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek
Reducing the working week to four days can improve productivity and keep current employees happy and healthy, as well as attract new recruits.
Better Employee Recruiting and Retention
Burnout is one of the most common reasons employees leave jobs — especially frontline workers. A four-day workweek gives them extra time off to spend with family and friends, enjoy hobbies, or just relax. This is a major selling point for both recruiting and retention.
“Investing in employee’s work/life balance and providing an employees-first environment to work in, in turn, helps to increase employee engagement and retention. And happier employees means higher productivity,” says Kelly Perry, Senior HR Business Partner at Awin.
A four-day workweek doesn’t have to be a year-round implementation to be successful and make employees happy. Some companies, like Basecamp, elect to offer a shorter workweek during the summer when kids are out of school and families take more vacations. This improves retention because employees don’t have to spend as much money on childcare during the week.
Typically, when employees get two hours to do a task, they’ll take the full two hours, even if they could do the same task in 30 minutes. Because efficient workers are often “punished” with extra work (sometimes unpaid), they’ve learned to stretch assignments out to fit expectations. However, a four-day workweek would encourage employees to make better use of their time.
“When there’s less time to work, you waste less time,” says Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp. “When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”
When there’s less time to work, you waste less time.”Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp
Moving to a four-day working week should also force managers to take a closer look at meetings and cut any that are unnecessary. The common joke in most offices is “this meeting could’ve been an email,” hinting at the frustration employees feel about their time being wasted.
“Most of our week is filled with bloat from excessive meetings and other distractions,” says Neil Miller, Director of The Digital Workplace Alliance. “By limiting the workweek to four days, workers have more time to focus, be refreshed, and enjoy life while still maintaining the same productivity metrics.”
When employees struggle with burnout, they’re sixty-three percent more likely to need a sick day and twenty-three percent more likely to need a visit to the emergency room.
We know stress is bad for both mental and physical health, affecting sleep and diet while reducing the efficacy of the immune system. A four-day week allows employees the time they need to shake off some of that stress and return to work recharged.
Mental health among employees is likely to improve as well, especially in winter when people typically have to work during the only sunny hours of the day.
Jori Saeger, VP of HR and Marketing at Uplevel, notes, “When work takes up more hours, we still need to fit in our non-work-life obligations, and it’s more likely that we multitask — often ineffectively — to get things done.” Multi-tasking during hobbies or self-care activities means employees aren’t getting the full benefit, and they’re likely to burn out faster.
Obstacles to a 4-Day Workweek
Companies considering the switch to a four-day week may be concerned about their availability for customers, and how to implement such a system.
Staying Available for Clients
Client-based businesses may worry that a four-day workweek will frustrate their customers. If your business needs to be available to clients Monday through Friday, consider giving your employees the option of which day they’d like to have off during the week. Then, you should always have someone available to your customers.
Alternatively, you could split your staff and give half of them Monday off, while the other half gets Friday off — leaving everyone together in the office Tuesday through Thursday. Or maybe you rotate your staff schedules, so they might have Fridays off during one month and Mondays off during the next.
You might also require your employees to be on-call on their off day. Depending on how needy their clients are, however, this could defeat the purpose of a four-day workweek and leave your employees more burnt out than before.
A four-day workweek isn’t something businesses can implement overnight, especially if they don’t have technology in place to help employees optimize their working hours and automate manual tasks.
“Moving to a four-day week is a huge cultural shift and everyone needs to be prepared for this,” says Perry. “A key topic for us was automation, how can we reduce the time staff spends on manual admin tasks, which would then allow staff to work four normal days. For this to be successful it’s important not to rush launching this without giving staff and managers training and expectation management around their role — every single person is responsible for self-reflection on their work and how they do it.”
Most of us complete tasks in the same way we have done for years because it’s what we know, but is there a more efficient way to do this?Kelly Perry, Senior HR Business Partner at Awin
In order to ensure their four-day workweek will be successful, businesses should take small steps towards the change — implementing Summer Fridays or a 4.5-day workweek to start.
“Most of us complete tasks in the same way we have done for years because it’s what we know, but is there a more efficient way to do this?” Perry asks. “Awin didn’t move straight into a four-day week; we first trialed a 4.5-day working week, which allowed us to take learnings and make the transition less of a jump.”
Measuring the Success of a 4-Day Workweek
You’ll be able to tell if your four-day workweek strategy is successful if you’re still hitting your KPIs and your employees aren’t needing as many sick days. Your customer satisfaction scores can also help you determine whether you’re still meeting client needs within the shorter week. And your employee retention rate should increase, assuming there aren’t other factors contributing to burnout, like micromanagement.
In addition to measurable outcomes, you should also be able to sense a general uptick in the overall mood of the office. Employees are likely to be happier and more relaxed at work, allowing them to focus on their roles and improve collaboration with their colleagues. Pulse surveys can also help you turn this feeling into measurable feedback.
Also read: The Importance of Performance Management
4-Day Workweeks Are Not an Excuse to Cut Salaries
Because four-day workweeks can actually improve productivity, you shouldn’t cut your employees’ salaries when you move to this model. If they’re doing the same amount of work — even if it’s taking them less time — there’s no reason to punish them. Instead, think of it as an additional benefit you’re offering to be competitive in a tough recruiting environment.
Four-day workweeks are a great perk for recruiting, but without the right software in place, you may still struggle to find the right candidates. Use our Product Selection Tool to get the perfect recruiting software to streamline your hiring process and attract better candidates. In as little as five minutes, you’ll get a free, customized list of product recommendations.
Read next: Workplace Trends for Employers to Consider