Can the Post-COVID Workplace Accommodate the 4-Day Workweek?

The 4-day workweek has compelling potential to improve employee work-life balance and productivity. Does it have a place in the post-COVID workplace?

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Can the Post-COVID Workplace Accommodate the 4-Day Workweek?

Here's what you need to know:

  • If you have been thinking about redesigning your work model to make your staff more productive and satisfied, the 4-day workweek is worth considering
  • The approaches of the 4-day workweek are either a compressed week or a shortened workweek
  • Tips for successfully implementing a 4-day workweek include getting buy-in from your team, defining clear goals, and starting small
  • Other tips include keeping communication lines open and tracking results

For companies, 2022 has been the year to revisit past goals and convert them into actions, all while factoring in the valuable knowledge they acquired from the pandemic.

However, while pressing matters like eliminating supply chain bottlenecks and improving liquidity have taken center stage in most boardrooms, many businesses have also given workplace dynamics a different look.

The pandemic severely disrupted traditional work models. So, with the post-COVID work landscape hastily taking shape, it is not surprising that HR departments have had to address some pressing issues. For example:

Employees do not want to return to the office

According to a FlexJobs survey, 65% of employees working at home during the pandemic prefer to continue doing so full-time. Yet, a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that supervisors have “negative perceptions” of work-from-home arrangements.

The labor market has become a lot more competitive

As a result, organizations are feeling immense pressure to increase compensation. The average annual salary bump reached 4.8% in 2022, the highest increase in decades.

Employers whose budgets are not flexible enough to meet the pay demands of top talent are having to rethink their employee value propositions (EVPs) to prove their worth from different angles.

Mental health is a primary concern

The pandemic and its ongoing aftershocks have affected workers’ mental health, with nearly 1 in 5 employees experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. HR leaders are looking for ways to mitigate the psychological impact of the past 2 years and ensure their employees are in a good place mentally and emotionally.

These challenges have organizations across industries scrambling to chart out the best path forward. One notion that has gained attention as a possible all-in-one solution is the 4-day workweek.

If you have been thinking about redesigning your work model to make your staff more productive and satisfied, the 4-day workweek is worth considering. Read on to learn more about this exciting trend to decide whether it is the right choice for your business.

What are the approaches of the 4-day workweek?

The 4-day workweek is a compressed schedule comprising 4 rather than the typical 5 workdays. Its implementation can either be in the form of a compressed workweek or a shortened workweek.

  • A compressed week retains the hours that employees work in 5 days but spreads them out differently. For example, instead of working 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday, an employee on a 4-day workweek schedule may work 10 hours a day from Monday to Thursday.
  • A shortened workweek cuts out the hours worked in one day altogether. So, if employees worked 40 days a week, they would only work 32 hours for the same compensation and perks.

Regardless of the approach, the primary goal of the 4-day workweek is to give employees more time to rest and rejuvenate without sacrificing productivity or pay.

How can a 4-day workweek benefit your organization?

The obvious advantage of the 4-day workweek is that employees get more time to rest and recharge. With more time off, they can pursue hobbies, spend time with family and friends, or just take a much-needed break from work.

Implementing a 4-day workweek can benefit the organization just as much as its employees.

However, implementing a 4-day workweek can benefit the organization just as much as its employees. Here are 6 tangible advantages your business can expect when it makes the switch.

Increased productivity

The 4-day workweek can lead to a sharp increase in productivity. When workers have more time to rest, they are less likely to experience burnout and return to work feeling refreshed and motivated.

Better employee well-being

Giving employees more time for themselves can do wonders for their physical and mental health. With the extra day off, they can exercise, eat better, and get enough sleep, all of which contribute to improved well-being and fewer unscheduled sick and vacation days.

Enhanced employee engagement

Employees who feel they have a good work-life balance are more engaged and invested in their work. They are more likely to contribute new ideas, be open to feedback, and stick around for the long term.

Lower operational costs

A 20% reduction in the time employees spend at the office can substantially reduce overhead costs.

Improved attraction and retention of talent

Younger generations increasingly value work-life balance. Offering a 4-day workweek can make your organization more attractive to top talent and improve retention rates.

A smaller carbon footprint

If your company is looking to reduce its environmental impact, a 4-day workweek can be a great way to do it. Fewer work days mean less energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint.

Where is the 4-day workweek in practice today?

The 4-day workweek may just be a consideration for many companies, but some have already started tinkering with it and unlocking the benefits. If you are still weighing your options, perhaps the case studies below will give you the push you need to take the plunge.

  • Microsoft Japan: Microsoft’s Japan office tried a 4-day workweek for two months in 2019. The results were impressive, as employees reported feeling 20% more productive, and their overall satisfaction with work improved by 40%.
  • Perpetual Guardian: In 2018, New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian conducted a 2-month trial where it switched all its 240 employees to a 4-day workweek. Consequently, employee stress levels fell by 7%, and work-life balance improved by 24% without any productivity drop.
  • Spain’s 4-day workweek campaign: Several dozen companies participated in a 4-day workweek trial run in Spain in March 2021. The program was so successful that the Spanish government is considering making it a permanent policy.
  • Kickstarter: Crowdfunding giant Kickstarter started a 4-day workweek pilot in April 2022.

Chief Strategy Officer John Leland said the move was primarily “a way to address the climate crisis and motivate employees to make more sustainable decisions.” In addition to making the company more climate-friendly, the pilot resulted in Kickstarter’s most productive quarter.

Tips for successfully implementing a 4-day workweek

Despite the success stories above, not every organization that has tried out the 4-day workweek has had a positive experience. For instance, Portland-based Treehouse, one of the earliest adopters of the 4-day workweek model, shifted back to working 5 days a week after laying off 22 workers in 2016.

More recently, in June 2022, Los Angeles-based marketing firm Alter Agents tested a 4-day workweek model for 10 weeks. Employees were allowed to pick a day to take off, provided their team members were not out of the office on the same day.

According to the firm’s founder and CEO Rebecca Brooks, some employees would still perform small tasks on their day off, even though the company had reiterated that it was not required. It also became challenging for people to keep up with what happened when they were away.

Nevertheless, these cases aside, research indicates that the model has positively impacted 90% of the companies that have tried it. With proper planning and execution, your business can be in the 90% that succeeds.

Here are 5 tips for making your 4-day workweek a success.

Get buy-in from your team

Start by conducting surveys to gauge whether employees would be open to working 4 days a week. Then, communicate the rationale behind the change and what is expected of employees.

Define clear goals

What does your company hope to achieve by switching to a 4-day workweek? Is it increased productivity, improved work-life balance, or something else entirely? Be clear about your goals from the outset, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Start small

Do not go head-first into a 4-day workweek without first testing the waters. Instead, try it out for a few months with a select group of employees or even just one department. That way, you can iron out any kinks before rolling it out company-wide.

Keep communication lines open

As with any significant change, you will have some bumps along the way. The key is to empower employees to voice their concerns and offer suggestions on continuously improving the 4-day workweek model.

Track results

Finally, track progress and collect data throughout the implementation process. Doing so will help determine whether the 4-day workweek achieves the desired results.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Will the future work landscape embrace the 4-day workweek?

Thanks to the pandemic, the world now knows that the traditional 9-5 workday is not the only way to get things done. For many organizations, remote work has been a game changer that has improved employee output, satisfaction, and well-being. Looking ahead, employers will continue exploring more ways to optimize working models.

The 4-day workweek is an exciting proposition for the future of work and a worthy consideration for HR departments. Use the insights here to gauge whether it is the right fit for your organization.

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