The 4-day workweek has left many people with a positive feeling about their employer — and appreciation for the opportunity.
Here's what you need to know when you're thinking of switching to a 4-day workweek and what other companies are saying:
- The 4-day workweek is not a new concept.
- Implementing a 4-day workweek inspired employees to think differently about their work and be innovative.
- By the end of the trial, a firm experienced positive results, with an increase in profitability of 30%.
All around the world, HR professionals and business managers have been feeling the pressure to hop on the 4-day workweek bandwagon. With the great resignation still in full swing, companies are going through major layoffs, and employees are no longer interested in accepting the more traditional ways of working.
Companies need to get more creative than ever when it comes to retention strategies and creating a competitive working culture. This is especially true for organizations that can’t afford to compete with salary and total compensation packages.
What people expect in today’s environment
What people want from their jobs, career, and how they spend their days has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research by Microsoft demonstrates this with one report that indicates:
- “47% of people say they are more likely to put family and personal life over work than before the pandemic.”
- “53% reported they were more likely to prioritize their health and well-being over work than before the shutdowns.”
Cue in the 4-day workweek. The 4-day workweek is not a new concept. This idea started to gain a lot of public recognition in 2018 when Perpetual Guardian successfully implemented their pilot, and again in 2019 when Microsoft launched an experimental pilot program with their employees.
Both companies reported positive results across the board.
As employees seek meaningful change after coming out of a long and challenging two years, the 4-day work week is becoming a popular tool in many organizations’ employee retention strategies.
What is the 4-day work week?
According to the 4-Day Week Global Foundation, “the 4-day work week reduces the work week from a standard 40 hours to 32 hours for the same pay and benefits. This reduction has been proven to work for employees and employers”.
4-Day Week Global Foundation is a research organization dedicated to bringing this trend to more organizations. They are a not-for-profit organization devoted to the 4-day workweek led by:
They provide organizations with information to help them launch their own pilots via:
In this article, we will review how 4 different organizations have managed their 4-day workweeks and their results.
Four companies that have piloted the 4-day workweek
We have gathered information from around the world to ensure we have a well-rounded approach to our data. In order of appearance in our list, these companies are based in:
- New Zealand
- Vancouver, B.C., Canada
- S. and Europe – San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Stockholm, Sweden
- S. – New York City
Here’s what each company has learned:
Perpetual Guardian’s 4-day experiment
Perpetual Guardian is a New Zealand-based company focused on estate planning. They conducted an 8-week trial by launching a 4-day workweek with 240 of their employees. A deep dive into their experience offered insights into all stages of the experience.
Talking about the up-sides
When it came to planning and launching the trial, their employees felt positive about the initiative. They felt it inspired them to think differently about their work and be innovative.
The 4-day workweek stimulated people and made them think through their processes and entire systems to improve how they were doing their job.
The experience left people with a positive feeling about their employer. They felt grateful for having the opportunity to participate in the pilot.
The disappointments of the trial
Challenges that came up for employees were the long hours they had to put in to be able to take a day off. Some teams were so busy that participating in the trial was not an option, and not every manager across the organization felt the pilot was beneficial.
When it came to the benefits, employees felt the quality of their weekends was improved because they could spend time with their loved ones. Others experienced more time to take on meaningful learning, exploration, and experimentation in other areas of their lives.
When it came to productivity, “The majority feel that their team demonstrated that they are capable of meeting (or in some cases exceeding) productivity targets within shorter working hours.” This trial helped people be more conscious of how they were spending their time at work.
According to the case study, when the organization compared pre- and post-trial results, they found a 40% increase in employee engagement. Based on the results, Perpetual Guardian has made the 4-day workweek permanent with the option to opt in.
YLAW’s move to 4-day workweeks
YLAW is a family and immigration law firm based in Vancouver, led by Founder Leena Youssef.
Ms. Youssef successfully worked a 4-day work week in her own career. When she realized how exhausted her employees were when Friday rolled around, she decided to implement it for her entire law firm.
During the planning phase, she was able to clearly measure the losses she would experience in billable hours, which would be around 10%. She set out to try and measure the long term gains, which would be defined by:
- Faster expansion of her personnel
- Increased efficiencies
In the implementation stage of her 4-day workweek, she started with a 3-month pilot. She set the front-end expectation that they would return to the 5-day schedule if the pilot was not successful.
Setting boundaries and expectations
She picked Wednesday as the day off to avoid a pile-up of work on Mondays. She set clear guidelines that the office phones would be open on this day. If employees needed to work on something urgent on the day off, they should, but she also said they should not expect to trade the regularly scheduled time off for a different day.
While most people were happy, some individuals worried about not being able to use that extra day to build their careers. Others felt like they did not have enough control of their calendars to make it work. To mitigate these concerns, she reminded people that this day off was optional.
By the end of the trial, she found positive results, with profitability at her firm up 30%. She also saw increased margins, along with rapid expansion in personnel and applications of new lawyers as the 4-day workweek became permanent.
She explains that “People realized how much time they were wasting because they were tired. The waste of time has been almost completely eliminated.” She also reported that the lawyers are exceeding their old billable hour targets, leading to more profitability for the firm.
What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve
Answer to see the results
Bolt’s 4-day workweek challenge to status quo
Bolt is an eCommerce platform with Series B funding of 1 billion dollars. They were interested in challenging the status quo in the early stages of building their culture and company.
They kicked off the experiment by having everyone cancel every meeting on their calendar. Leadership encouraged each person to question whether or not they really needed to attend a meeting if they were not an active participant in the subject matter.
They challenged employees to think about whether meetings needed to be 30 minutes or if they could be dropped down to 15 minutes. They were also encouraged to stack meetings on similar topics together to help reduce the impact of context switching. This evaluation forced everyone to rethink which meetings truly mattered and needed to be on their calendars.
They decided on Friday as their day off and encouraged everyone to remove meetings that were not important. They worked in sprints to get everything done by Thursday so they could enjoy their Fridays off.
Teams who worked with external facing clients reported having struggled to plan meetings within the Monday-Thursday timeframe. Those who couldn’t clear all their appointments on Friday were encouraged to take that time off at a different time during the week.
Many people reported experiencing a lot of stress when they came to work on Mondays because they knew how much had piled up during those 3 days off. Despite this stress, employees still supported the decision to switch over to a 4-day workweek.
Managers reported a need for further training to become more efficient on asynchronous tools and practices to make the 4-day work week more effective.
84% of Bolt’s employees stated their work-life balance had improved and their productivity had not been hindered. This sentiment was echoed by managers as well, with surveys indicating that:
- 87% of the managers reported no obstruction to productivity and service level agreements with stakeholders
- 85% of managers said that their teams successfully hit goals/OKRs
- 91% of the company’s managers were able to re-organize their calendars to make all of their 1:1s
The company also saw a 30% job application increase. Bolt has since made this schedule a permanent change.
Shake Shack’s 4-day workweek
4-day workweeks don’t just need to be a benefit enjoyed by corporate workers. In 2019, Shake Shack piloted what a 4-day shift would be like for its salaried managers in 1/3rd of its stores. You can view the job posting and how they advertised this perk in this job description.
At a time when Shake Shack was expanding quickly and looking to attract a lot of managers, this initiative helped them attract more diverse candidates and created a spike in applicants.
As a result of this experiment, Shake Shack’s employees reported an improved lifestyle, with a financial gain from having 1 less day a week of childcare to pay for. From the employer’s side, there was a boost in recruitment efforts and increased employee retention.
The pandemic effect
This initiative was paused during COVID without plans to continue due to the prolonged hiring shortage within the service industry. The company has also announced a change in priorities from hiring salaried managers to hourly employees. Instead, they are choosing to focus their efforts on helping employees with their careers and development, says Business Insider.
The downside and what to watch out for
While the benefits for well-being are undeniable, one Gallup study found that employees on a 4-day work week might actually be more disengaged than those on a 5-day work week. They found that “by working fewer days per week, employees who already feel disconnected from their employer, team or manager are more likely to drift even farther away — from tolerating their jobs to hating them.”
While the 4-day workweek may be a good solution for your organization, Gallup suggests it is not a one-size-fits-all solution for a disengaged workforce. They suggest first focusing on improving the following three global principles.
- Think about the overall flexibility of the organization. Flexibility allows employees more balance and a happier life. This, in turn, can help increase employee engagement.
- Create more meaningful and impactful work for employees. Whether this means finding ways to automate monotonous work or carving out time for employees to work on significant projects, help connect your employees to meaningful opportunities.
- Create a strong management culture so employees don’t feel the need to escape their workplaces. Managers have one of the most significant impacts on how employees feel at work. If you’re not investing in strong managers, the impact will trickle down.
Improving these three pillars will all positively impact your employees’ lives without having to cut down your work week.
Another management training issue to consider is the optics of seeing employees less frequently. Some managers don’t trust their employees and still subscribe to the idea that more hours in front of the screen will always lead to better results. In those instances, managers may penalize employees who take advantage of the 4-day work week. Having buy-in across the board is essential in making this successful.
Four-day workweeks can work in your favor
If you’ve been thinking about switching your company to a 4-day workweek, be intentional about your planning and create a robust change management plan. People need to know that their job security won’t be impacted if they participate in the new schedule, so regular communication and leading by example will go a long way.
Now is a better time than ever to try something new. So, why not give the 4-day work week a chance?