A Case for the 4-Day Work Week
Most of us would jump at the chance to work four days each week instead of five while getting paid the same.
It sounds great on paper, and as many companies are seeing, it works great in practice, too. This trend is known as the four-day work week, and it represents an entirely new way of looking at workplace productivity.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
Companies across the globe are curious about how shorter work weeks may affect their businesses.
For example, take software company Wildbit. They took the plunge and shifted their work schedule so that each employee worked 32 hours each week instead of the usual 40. According to cofounder Natalie Nagele, the results were a resounding success:
“When we reviewed our first year of four-day weeks, we realized we launched more features than the previous year… Since we know we only have four days to get our work done, we work smarter to avoid distractions and cut through the procrastination.”
And they’re not the only ones who have made the switch.
A New Zealand estate firm called Perpetual Guardian also tried out the four-day work week, reporting significant productivity boosts across the firm’s 240 employees. They also reported improvements to their team’s sense of work/life balance: 24 percent more employees reported positive balance under the four-day work week.
With these results, it’s no surprise that the world is taking notice. Heck, even school districts are experimenting with 4-day weeks. (Though in this case, it’s about cutting costs rather than productivity. But hey, the results are the same.)
The Benefits of Working Less
It’s not hard to see why the four-day work week is so popular with employees, but the real hook is how it can benefit the employer. As more companies try it out, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the outdated 40-hour work week is unhelpful from a productivity standpoint.
The research on this issue is well-established; we humans just can’t do our best work for more than three to four hours per day. After that limit, our productivity drops and we start wasting time. By reducing the amount of hours required from each employee during the work week, companies aim to maximize this productivity window while reducing the inevitable “bloat” that comes with longer hours.
It makes sense from the company’s perspective, too. Aside from keeping employees happy, reducing work hours forces them to clean house and eliminate the time sinks that had gone unnoticed.
It sounds like a perfect situation, right?
The Drawbacks of Change
Not everyone takes such a rosy view of the shorter work week.
Detractors of the practice are quick to point out its disadvantages, such as how clients may react to reduced operating hours. It’s not feasible for every business to stay closed during the weekday, so giving each employee a shorter work week means getting creative with scheduling and ensuring that everyone gets their due without too much disruption to business hours.
There’s also the “fake 4-day work week” to consider. Some companies believe that a four-day work week should still include 40 hours of work—meaning that employees log 10 hour days instead of eight. While the extra day off may offer some benefits compared to the usual 9-5, this strategy misses the entire point that we need to work less each day to stay productive.
There are even reports of CEOs trying out the four-day work week and then reverting back to a traditional paradigm, citing “decreased work ethic” as the reason why. (Of course, the article only points to Mr. Carson’s decreased work ethic—there’s less insight into how his employees felt about it.) Regardless, it’s clear that different strategies work better for different companies.
Find Your Productivity Zone
And at the end of the day, that’s your biggest takeaway. There’s certainly a case to be made for the four-day work week, particularly as flexible working options enter the mainstream, but it might not be for everyone. It’s up to the business to determine whether working less could boost productivity—and how to make the shift in a way that benefits its goals, employees, and customers.