The 4-Day Workweek: Pros and Cons

Offering a 4-day workweek for employees is a growing trend. But is it right for your organization?

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Here's what you need to know:

  • Pros of a 4-day workweek can include cost savings, increased productivity, and employee retention
  • Some disadvantages, however, can include scheduling challenges, reduced producivity, and added stress

In an effort to attract and retain workers, many businesses are considering making changes to the standard workweek and moving to a 4-day workweek. As a result, some are looking at compressed time – moving from an 8-hour day 5 days a week to 10-hours per day for only 4. Many workers are reacting favorably to the shift – whether it gives them more time to spend with family or just more ‘me’ time.

Another option many businesses are piloting is shifting to a 4-day week that doesn’t add hours by simply removing one day from the workweek. Employees are either at the same rate of pay and benefits or less, to reflect the reduced production.

A recent Zenefits poll found 67% of workers are enjoying some form of flexible work arrangement.

Some companies have changed start/end times; others offer hybrid or fully remote work. Businesses are looking for ways to keep employees:

  • On the payroll
  • Engaged
  • Productive

The 4-day workweek may work for your organization but first, consider the plusses and minuses.

The Pros

Leadership’s first reaction might be a definitive no, while employees are a resounding yes. Before you table a 4-day workweek (indefinitely), it’s worthwhile to examine all the ways it can benefit your staff and your organization.

Motivation

Considering moving to a 4-day workweek, either compressed or reduced hours, can be a strong motivator for employees. Like any other benefit, it’s perceived as a way the business can support its staff members on and off the job. The rarity of these programs may motivate employees to work hard to earn or retain the benefit.

Cost savings

A Henley Business School poll of business leaders asked whether the four-day workweek was cost-effective. More than half, 51%, reported cost savings. These include lower facilities and utilities costs. Almost two-thirds report improved productivity.

Less downtime

The same poll found business leaders reporting 62% reported fewer sick days being used. When employees have that extra day off during traditional business hours, they’re better able to schedule personal necessities. They can make doctor’s and other appointments on their regular day off without taking time away from the job.

Increased productivity

You’d think a 20% reduction in work time would reflect 20% less productivity. Instead, in 2019, Microsoft Japan found that moving to a four-day workweek increased productivity by 40%. They also saved more than 20% on electricity costs over the previous year. They also reduced the number of pages printed by almost 60%.

Attracting talent

According to ZipRecruiter, job postings listing a 4-day workweek have tripled in the last 5 years. Post-pandemic hiring challenges could make that trend increase. As the competition for talent surges, top job seekers are looking for the best possible opportunity. A compressed or shortened workweek might fit the bill.

Retention

The key to retaining employees is avoiding burnout and focusing on wellness. A 2020 Gallup poll of over 10,000 workers found the lowest level of job burnout in employees who worked a 4-day week. Additionally, 4-day workweek employees reported the highest rates of ‘thriving wellbeing’ at 63% of those polled.

Autonomy

Every business leader wants staff members to take ownership of their work.

When you give employees autonomy to do their work in any allotted amount of time, they take that power and translate it into ownership and engagement.

If your organization shifts to a 4-day workweek, your message is clear: you’re trusted to get your work done.

Environmental benefits

If you want to lower your company’s carbon footprint, keeping employees off the road and keeping the lights off 20% of the time can be a big help. In addition to reducing energy use for employees commuting to the workplace, keeping them off the road reduces emissions into the atmosphere.

The cons

There are downsides to a compressed workweek as well. Before you say yes, or even pilot a program, take a look at some of the ways you’ll need to consider an offset to provide the benefit.

Coverage

Many business leaders worry there won’t be adequate coverage for customers and coworkers. This can be a challenge to overcome. For some organizations, half of the 4-day workforce takes off on Mondays, while the other half takes off on Friday – providing coverage for clients. The need to have your team available for customers, or to assist other members of the group, may limit your ability to compress the workweek.

Scheduling

In addition to managing client needs, internal scheduling may cause problems. Planned meetings can be scheduled within the workweek, but impromptu or emergency meetings may be troublesome. Brainstorming sessions may see limited input, particularly if employees who are off are inaccessible. How often these occur within an organization may dictate the feasibility of a 4-day workweek.

Reduced hours can mean reduced work

While some organizations have seen productivity rise, your actual results may vary. It may depend on the commitment and maturity level of the team. Established workers, who know you can return to 5-day weeks if it doesn’t work out, may push to maintain or increase productivity levels. Others may not see it that way. You’ll need to gauge how much flexibility you can offer based on your staff’s level of responsibility. There also may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, this could be viewed as a perk for employees who can be counted on for results.

Compression may cost money

Salaried workers on compressed time – 4-days at 10 hours per day – should be expected to perform and produce at the same level as their traditional schedule. However, hourly workers who work this schedule may put your organization at risk of overtime pay if there’s a need for them to come in on their typical day off.

Some states require overtime after employees work 8-hours per shift. Compressing these non-exempt workers to 4 10-hour days could mean 8-hours of overtime pay per week. You’ll have to be careful with scheduling to keep overtime costs down.

If you’re planning to reduce hours by one day but keep employees’ wages at the same rate, you’ll be paying for work produced – not hours worked. If the staff member can get their regular job done in 4-days instead of 5, you’re paying for performance. If they can’t, you’re overpaying.

Added stress

Everyone loves a 3-day weekend. This is typically how businesses structure a 4-day week (Monday or Friday off). Holding on to that benefit may mean additional stress during ‘on’ days to ensure you don’t lose your ‘off ‘ day.

Most employees polled say a 4-day week helps with work/life balance. That’s a plus, but if the work portion adds more stress, the alternative schedule might be a losing proposition.

More work for others

Four-day workweeks can add tasks. Managers will spend more time scheduling meetings, client contacts, and group tasks when some staffers are not on the clock. They’ll need to keep a closer eye on:

  • Overtime
  • Project management
  • Performance

Administrators will have to monitor schedules and productivity to assure the program isn’t costing more than it’s worth.

Might not work for every employee

There may be sections of your company that can shift to a 4-day workweek, while others cannot. Unless you plan to shut down the production line and live with the ripple effects that causes, office workers may have the option but not front-liners. This might become a pain point for your business: it might result in resentment. If you’re considering a change, make sure it can apply equally to all departments.

More employees are requesting their companies consider compressed workdays or shortened workweeks. It will be essential to review all the plusses and minuses of making the shift before deciding to change.

If you plan to implement the 4-day workweek, start with a pilot program – possibly during slower months. Then analyze whether a 4-day workweek worked for employees, customers, and your business.

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