Businesses are always trying to figure out the best way to get the most out of their employees to increase productivity and enhance the overall employee experience. Some are offering higher salaries; some are offering better benefits and vacation plans; some are starting to question the number of hours and days their employees work. One such idea that’s gaining more and more popularity is the four-day workweek.
Some companies are lowering the total number of hours worked while some are leaving the number of hours worked the same over the course of those four days.
Regardless of what approach you think is best for improving productivity, we’re here to discuss whether or not the four-day workweek is right for your business, along with the positives and negatives of this idea.
Why businesses are considering the 4-day workweek
Before we delve into the positives and negatives of the strategy — and what your business needs to consider before making the switch — we need to discuss why the four-day workweek is such a big deal.
When people are working longer and harder and not making as much money as they should be, they’re not finding the right balance between work and family. That balance is key to increasing productivity in the workplace.
Happy, refreshed employees are able to spend more time focusing on work instead of worrying about being isolated from their families, not doing enough to make ends meet, and simply catching up on household duties like grocery shopping, scheduling doctor’s appointments, and giving back to the community.
It’s not that they don’t want to work hard.
In fact, millennials have had a much harder time getting their lives on track because of high tuition costs, student loan debts, an ultra-competitive job market, lower salaries with fewer benefits, high rent costs and high childcare costs.
In order to compensate for salaries that haven’t increased with the cost of inflation, they’re working longer hours and feeling more obligated to do so because technology makes it easier to work from home and respond to emails after hours.
Many businesses struggle to find a happy medium between hours worked and levels of productivity. Some research suggests that we can lower the number of hours worked to as low as three per day to boost productivity, but don’t expect that to happen any time soon.
The point of this research is to suggest that working more doesn’t equate to better productivity and that it can actually become an inhibitor.
The four-day workweek is being tested to determine whether fewer hours in the office, more family time and more flexibility can lead to an increase in productivity.
Pros and cons of the 4-day workweek
Now that we understand why you’re hearing more about the four-day workweek, we need to understand that the four-day workweek will not work for everyone, and is entirely dependent on your team. Let’s look at the pros and cons to see if this is the right move for your business.
Less time commuting. Employees who only have to come in four days a week don’t have to spend as much time on the road or on public transportation, which has a significant impact on stress. If your business sticks to a 40-hour workweek, this also means starting earlier and leaving later, which can help your team avoid rush hour.
Save money on electricity and heating. You can save a significant amount of money on electricity and heating by having an extra day off, and that money can be put towards something else that helps to increase the overall productivity of the office.
Extra day with family. Weekends typically work as such: everyone’s playing catch-up on Saturday and preparing for the following week on Sunday. The two days you’re supposed to have off to relax end up being just as busy as the weekdays, which leaves you will little time to actually spend with your family.
Related: Clear your calendar for family time
Fewer days off. When you have an extra day off — either on Monday, Wednesday or Friday — you can use that day to catch up on all the responsibilities that get typically get pushed back to Saturday and Sunday, leaving the weekend open to focus on relaxing. There are a ton of ways to use those extra 52 days off.
Extended hours of office coverage with 10-hour workdays. Longer work days can translate to more opportunities for coverage between employees, as well as give employees more time to finish their work. Many employees already work more than eight hours a day in order to finish their work so the difference would be minimal.
Job performance remains unaffected during 32-hour workweek. A New Zealand firm experimented with a 32-hour workweek and found that there was no change in productivity. This study combined with the three-hour workday study shows that it’s not always necessary to be in the office 40 hours a day or 5 days a week.
Better attendance. You’d think employees would take advantage of a longer weekend by taking off more, but studies show that the extra day off is doing the opposite.
Related: 9 ways to motivate employees
The entire office needs to be involved to work smoothly. The four-day workweek isn’t right for everyone. Some jobs are more hands-on than others, and some people would rather work shorter hours over the course of five days than longer hours. You also run the risk of alienating your employees if some people choose to stick with a five-day workweek.
Ten hour workdays might not be practical. Studies show that productivity diminishes as the day goes on, and that the brain can only be productive a couple hours at a time, hence the hypothetical three-hour workday. Increasing the number of hours in a day can have an adverse effect on productivity and also keep families away from each other longer.
Extended hours will be difficult to acquire from daycares. An extra day off might be good for working mothers who want to spend more time with their kids, but this also means that they’ll need more coverage during the week. It’s not likely you’ll find a daycare offering later hours when most businesses still operate five days a week.
Regulations can get in the way. Again, the fact that your business is taking a chance with a four-day workweek doesn’t mean everyone else is. Some states, like California, require employers to pay their employees overtime after working eight hours in a single day. If your business switches to a four-day, 10-hour work schedule, you might end up being forced to pay your employees more, so be sure you check any regulations.
Potentially reduce wages. In order to cover the costs of losing a workday, employers are sometimes forced to reduce wages, which won’t help convince those who are already skeptical about the switch. It might also prevent potential new hires from considering your business.
More hiring might be required. If you have to hire more people to help make up for the increased flexibility, that’s not going to do your business any favors. New hires require training, which costs money, and it means adding to the payroll, so you have to factor additional salaries into your budget.
The final word on the 4-day workweek
The five-day, 40-hour week can be considered one of the first attempts at striking a balance between work and life at home. Before this, people were used to working 10-hour days and Saturdays.
In 1908, a New England mill company with a number of Jewish employees gave them an extra day off for the Sabbath instead of a half-day that forced everyone to make up for the time lost on Sunday.
Henry Ford popularized the concept in the 1920s by giving workers Saturday and Sunday off in an effort to increase productivity. Since the 1920s, we’ve stuck with this work schedule regardless of how effective it may or may not be.
There’s still more research to be done regarding the four-day workweek, but so far, it’s not as crazy a concept as it may seem at first.
Trial runs have proven to be positive and some businesses are making the changes permanent. Other studies show that it can cause more problems if it’s not implemented properly. If you feel that your team would benefit from a three-day weekend, there’s no reason not to give it a shot.