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The Four Day Work Week - The Case For And Against

Who enjoyed their day off on Monday? Imagine if this was you, EVERY week.

Firstly, let’s clarify that a Four Day Work Week is the concept of employees working four days a week while getting paid the same and earning the same benefits, but with the same workload as five-day salaries. Belgium - after Iceland and New Zealand - was the first European country to legislate the option of a four-day work week last year. However, Belgians don’t have the option of working fewer hours. They will simply fit their hours into four longer days - so it will be interesting to see the data on how working longer days affects overall productivity and employee wellbeing. I personally feel like this delivers the opposite of what shortening our work week is supposed to achieve. A more progressive stance perhaps – for industries and roles where possible - is to move to a productivity instead of time-based model.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a poll on Instagram asking followers which option they would prefer if given the choice:

a) A Four Day Work Week or

B) A 10% wage increase

The results: 84% of people preferred a four-day work week (even given the current inflationary pressures!)

Did you know that the four-day week is even being implemented in some schools? In fact, Bankstown Senior College have been offering a four-day school week since 2008!

As business owners, the thought of having to pay employees a full salary, but only having them available for four days (and fewer hours) naturally triggers angst for some business owners… So, what are the benefits?

1. Employee Well-being: The overwhelming majority of studies show that a reduction in workdays decreases the stress load on employees. Research from the University of Cambridge on the UK Trial of a 4 Day Work Week found that it reduced rates of stress and sickness with 70% lower levels of burnout and 39% less stressed. There was a 65% reduction in sick days,. Company revenue barely changed during the trial period -- even increasing marginally by 1.4% on average.

2. Increased Productivity: You’ve probably heard it said that if you give yourself the day to clean your home, it will take all day - but if you have visitors arriving for brunch it will be spotless by 10am?... Work can often be like this. We procrastinate on the jobs we don’t want to do. Find distractions…. However, with a shorter work week, employees are more focussed and prioritise and eliminate distractions – leading to a higher output. The University of Cambridge study also conducted interviews with trial participants and found process improvements and innovation were a by-product in the effort to improve productivity. For example – meetings with clearer agendas (oh thank god!), reforming email etiquette to reduce unnecessary copies and threads, analysis of production processes and task lists for handovers at end of day/next day etc. A win/win all around.

3. Talent Attraction & Retention: Offering a four-day workweek can be a powerful tool for attracting and retaining top talent. In a competitive job market, companies that provide flexible work arrangements stand out. And in an environment where employees are pushing for an increase in wages, a four-day work week may just be the answer you are looking for if a wage increase doesn’t sit well with your budget (see results of my informal Instagram survey).

Employees are more likely to stay with a company that values work-life balance, reducing turnover and recruitment costs. The Cambridge study also showed that there was a 57% fall in the number of staff leaving participating companies – compared to the same period the previous year.

4. Environmental Benefits: Fewer workdays mean reduced commuting, which can lead to lower carbon emissions and less traffic congestion. A four-day workweek can contribute to a company's sustainability efforts and align with a growing emphasis on environmental responsibility. Don’t forget 20% less electricity (and other consumables) used within your workplace also reduces your business running costs.

With all these benefits, why are some concerned about a four-day work week?

1. Operational Challenges: There is the potential for a four-day work week to pose operational challenges - particularly for businesses that rely on continuous or round-the-clock operations. Some industries, like healthcare or customer service, may struggle to accommodate a shorter workweek without compromising service quality.

2. Reduced Collaboration: Some argue that a shorter workweek may hinder teamwork and collaboration, as employees have fewer days to meet and discuss projects. This in turn could slow down decision-making processes and potentially harm project outcomes, especially in industries where teamwork is crucial. I’m pretty sure we made this work during lockdown though!

3. Customer Expectations: Companies that interact directly with customers may find it challenging to meet customer expectations with a four-day workweek. Customers accustomed to five-day service may become frustrated with slower response times or limited availability.

4. Financial Implications: Implementing a four-day workweek can have financial implications, as some companies may need to pay overtime or hire additional staff to cover the reduced work hours. Smaller businesses may struggle with the added costs. This may be particularly true for industries that are not productivity, but rather service based. Trials will need to examine the cost relationship of the shorter work week potentially requiring additional staff to cover outside hours with the financial benefits of increased employee wellbeing and retention.

Personally – I’m a huge fan of a four-day workweek (do I have any takers for three?) - offering benefits of improved employee well-being, increased productivity, and enhanced talent attraction and retention. However, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges implementation may pose and consider whether this model is suitable for your specific business and industry.

For now, here's hoping we truly do become the Land of the Long Weekend....

Rachel x

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