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There is growing momentum to change the typical five-day workweek, which has been in effect for more than 80 years in the US. The pandemic forced the move to remote work and opened the door for consideration of increased flexible work arrangements and the four-day workweek.
Various four-day workweek trials have been underway in the US and globally, reflecting positive results.
More companies are offering shorter workweeks for the same pay and benefits, and at least six states are considering bills to mandate or allow change to a four-day workweek.
This post will address the four-day workweek and its advantages and disadvantages.
The Traditional Five-Day, 40-Hour Workweek
Before 1900, the average work week was over 60 hours, and Saturday was a regular work day. Weekly hours began to fall as pressures mounted from labor unions.
Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, known for establishing the assembly line, was also among the first to standardize the five-day workweek, instead of the prevalent six days, without reducing employees’ pay.
President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a five-day, 40-hour workweek for many workers, the right to a minimum wage, and “time and a half” overtime pay for working over 44 hours, which went to 40 hours.
Productivity rose in line with employees’ compensation starting in the 1940s. Still, since the 1970s, the gap between productivity and wages widened as productivity increased more significantly from technological efficiencies as earnings lagged.
The real average wage (i.e., the wage adjusted for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago, with those who received wage gains accrued for the highest-paid workers.
Growing Interest in The 4-Day Workweek
The move to remote work changed the attitude of employees and employers when those who work from home were encouraged to do, and productivity didn’t fall off the cliff.
When working from home was taken up, and productivity didn’t fall off the cliff, employees’ and employers’ attitudes to remote work changed.
Workers in specific industries like restaurants and hospitality went on furloughs, lost their livelihoods, and sought jobs with more flexible arrangements.
There are variations of the four-day workweek, which range from 4 days at the same 40 hours, an increase to 10 hours per day; 4-day workweek but splitting days equally with two days in the office and remote work; and the most popular, the four-day workweek with 32 hours, or 8 hours per day. According to a Monster survey, 61% of workers would rather have a four-day workweek, and 33% said they’d be willing to quit their job for a shorter week.
Technological advances in productivity, including robotics, information technology, and skill-building, have contributed to the argument of having four-day workweeks for employees, while AI may drive further efficiencies.
The average work hours for the US in 1978 was 41.3 but has dropped to 34.3, including part-time hours, though European counties, including Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands, have lower hours as they move to 4-day workweeks.
UK 4-Day Work Week Trial
The 4 Day Week Global and Autonomy, an independent research organization, collaborated with academic institutional researchers at the University of Cambridge, Boston College, and other institutions. They published a report on the most extensive workweek pilot in the UK from June 2022 to December 2022, with participation from 2900 workers and 61 companies.
The UK pilot plan was to give 100% of pay for 80% work time and get 100% productivity based on a four-day, 32-hour week.
The findings were positive:
- 92% of the companies adopted a shorter workweek beyond the trial.
- Revenues rose 8.14% during the trial, as productivity remained high while absenteeism and turnover declined. Companies received higher job applications.
- 90% of the employees want to continue working with the 4-day week schedule with a 9.1 satisfaction rate. The employees reported the shorter week didn’t increase work intensity.
- Although the trial was planned for 32 hours, the average employee hours declined to 34.83.
- When asked if they were offered a five-day week job, how much of a salary increase would it take to accept it, 13% said no amount would incent them to take the job, while another 13% would go if there were a 50% increase.
Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek
Improved Work/Life Balance
Achieving a better work/life balance means satisfying your work and personal goals and improving your quality of life. Often we put our work assignments first, and we may ignore our health, have trouble sleeping, are stressed, and don’t get to spend enough time with our family and friends or feel fulfilled.
More than men, working women are the caregivers in their households and may sacrifice advancement in their jobs.
Having more time to pursue education, hobbies, or recreation is meaningful. A four-day workweek for employees with the same pay and benefits and a more extended weekend should go a long way to balancing our lives.
The findings of the UK trial provided strong evidence, with 54% of employees balancing their jobs and household duties. The employees reported fewer work-family conflicts and spent their free time on leisure, personal maintenance, and housework. Some people may want to use the extra time to make more money by pursuing passive income, side hustle, and building more skills.
Increased Productivity Despite Fewer Hours
Similar to results in the UK, in the trial with Microsoft Japan, employees worked four days a week with no reduction in pay for a summer, and yet, the company said its workforce was 40% more productive.
The fintech startup Bolt tested out the shorter week, and 91% of their employees reported being happier and more effective. Bolt is among ten companies, including Amazon, that made four-day workweeks permanent for its 700 employees after a three-month trial and found nearly 90% of employees reported they were more efficient with their time.
Reduced Stress and Burnout
Having a better state of mind can help reduce employee stress. The UK trial reported 67% of employees experienced less burnout, although 16% had increased pressure.
Health and well-being increased with positive changes, including more exercise, sleep, and less fatigue. The trial results showed employees were healthier and taking less sick leave. Having a greater focus on your job and maintaining your productivity over a four-day workweek is easier when you can relax three days in a row.
4 Day Week Global CEO, Charlotte Lockhart, explained that employees benefit from rest and lower stress levels, making them more engaged at work and giving them more time to be with their families.
Attracts Talent and Retention
Many surveys point to some employees quitting their jobs if they could work at an organization offering a four-day workweek. Depending on the company and industry, there is a lot of competition for attracting and retaining talented employees. According to Zip Recruiter, four-day workweek job postings get significantly more responses.
Cost Savings for Employers and Employees
One less day in the office can provide cost savings for employees and employers.
Reduced costs for workers should come from reduced commuting time. According to the US Census, the average time in the US is 27.6 minutes each way, taking public transportation or driving by car. Besides saving the commute, there is less stress facing traffic, and reduced costs stemming from energy, parking, wear and tear on the car, and potential bridge and toll payments.
Other cost benefits may include:
- Less formal clothing
- Having lunch in the office
- Lower childcare costs from less babysitting or daycare
According to 51% of Henley Business School’s survey of business leaders, companies are reporting significant cost savings. Companies recognize higher productivity and cost savings, realizing reduced utility bills, reduced communal services, and rent. The four-day workweek offering is beneficial to retaining their employees, which can be a costly endeavor.
Improving The Environment
The shorter workweek should benefit the environment. During the pandemic, pollution visibly decreased as people worked remotely at home. According to a study on the role of work hours from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, if we spent 10% less time working, our carbon footprint would be reduced by 14.6%, primarily due to less commuting or grabbing high-carbon convenience foods on our breaks. A full day off a week would reduce our carbon footprint by almost 30%.
Drawbacks of a 4-Day Workweek
Hard To Implement
Compressing a 5-day workweek into four days with potentially fewer hours will require companies to reexamine their goals and change schedules throughout their organization. Implementing overnight will take a lot of work, and AI may replace functions more quickly. There will be a lot of pressure on tasks like customer service or collaborative work.
Adapting the four-day workweek to companies will take significant time and cost without adding substantial costs and changing the organization’s culture.
Need Additional Customer Support
Management must have full coverage for its business, especially customer support. Many companies recognized it, measured customer support time during the trial, and responded to changes before implementing the plan.
Employers fear the repercussions a four-day workweek will have on customer service. In research on UK businesses, 82% of employers who didn’t offer a four-day workweek said making employees available to customers trumps the need to deliver flexible work. That may add more costs, at least initially.
Based on 4-day workweek trials, companies aim to achieve 100% of productivity for 80% of the traditional work time and 100% of pay. Employees may feel even more stress and burnout trying to keep up with the shortened time based on their respective goals.
People answering emails received over a two-day weekend can be challenging, and they will feel more pressure after a long weekend.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Not all industries, companies, or employees will participate in a four-day week. Not all employers or even employees are comfortable with the four-day week. Some employees are more productive than others and may worry about doing more work for their group’s slouchers.
According to results from the UK trials, 45% worried about being perceived as lazy by their colleagues, so much so it would turn them off the concept of a four-day workweek.
Schools will not likely shorten their week, so parents may need to adjust their schedules.
The traditional five-day workweek has been under scrutiny, especially since the pandemic, which proved flexible work arrangements are in demand. The four-day workweek may soon become a reality, with many trials reporting positive results for employees and employers.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.