Everything you need to know about the 4-day workweek concept
Last updated on: November 22, 2022
Have you heard about a 4-day workweek? Just imagine how cool that would be — working 32 hours per week instead of 40 and having more free time.
Or you may think that not everything about this type of workweek is peachy.
Let me tell you you’re right either way.
In this blog post, we’ll shed light on the 4-day workweek. Read on to learn more about:
- 4-day workweek concept,
- History of this type of work week,
- 4-day workweek benefits and drawbacks,
- How to implement the 4-day workweek successfully, and
- Countries that trialed the 4-day workweek (+ their outcomes).
What exactly is a 4-day workweek?
The four-day workweek reduces the workweek from 40 to 32 hours for the same salary, workload, and benefits. However, the companies that adopt the concept would have to have fewer meetings and focus more on the productivity of their employees, to squeeze the workload of a 5-day workweek into 4 days.
Companies such as Basecamp, Perpetual Guardian, and even Amazon have executed trial periods for shorter workweeks with positive results.
Let’s look at an example of how one of these companies implemented the 4-day workweek to their benefit.
Perpetual Guardian is a New Zealand-based firm that manages trusts, wills, and estates. Enabling staff to work 4 days a week and be paid for the regular 5 was so successful in the trial that they hoped to make the change official.
According to Perpetual Guardian, the staff were more inventive. Their engagement was better, their effectiveness in the workplace increased, they were all on time, and nobody left early or took extended breaks.
Throwback: History of the 4-day workweek
To get to the 4-day workweek, we need to start from the beginning — i.e. the time when all 7 days were work days — and work our way through history from there.
How it all began with a 7-day workweek
The 7-day workweek can be followed back approximately 4,000 years to Babylon.
The Babylonians assumed the solar system contained 7 planets, and the number 7 was so powerful that they organized their days around it.
Their seven-day planetary workweek spread globally. People worked 7 days a week and had no time off during weekends.
This all-work, no-play lifestyle ultimately caught up with its workers, resulting in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This act mandated:
- 8-hour workdays and 40-hour workweeks, as well as
- Minimum wages,
- Overtime pay entitlements,
- Recordkeeping requirements, and
- Child labor laws.
In essence, this is how the 5-day workweek became the norm.
How the 5-day workweek became the norm
Henry Ford, the Ford company’s founder, was the one who introduced a 5-day, 40-hour workweek to his industrial workers. He gave them free weekends, thus reducing their standard 6-day workweek to a 5-day workweek.
In an interview with Samuel Crowther, Ford explained it best:
“Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity. It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workers is either lost time or a class privilege.”
32-hour workweek — a 4-day workweek
There has been discussion of a four-day workweek for many years. In 1956, Richard M. Nixon predicted it would occur in the “not too distant future”.
Many years passed, and, unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic suddenly emerged giving rise to remote and hybrid work. This was the moment when other work aspects were given a breakthrough.
One of them was a 4-day workweek.
As already mentioned, this concept refers to reducing work hours while keeping the same workload. Some people are now advocating for a 32-hour workweek in order to:
- Increase productivity,
- Decrease unemployment, and
- Provide other benefits — such as reduced gas consumption and smog.
For example, the United States Department of Agriculture employs many 32-hour weekly staff members, aside from the fact that they are defined as part-time workers. This kind of job sharing allows managers more versatility in delegating responsibilities.
The indisputable benefits of a 4-day workweek
We’ve defined a 4-day workweek and told you about its history.
Now, what are some of the most important benefits of working 4 days a week?
Let’s find out.
More flexibility for working parents
Much has been written about how a four-day workweek could boost productivity and employee satisfaction. However, the shift could also be a huge win for gender equality.
Namely, working parents would have more time to fulfill childcare and other family and personal duties, if the workweek was 4 days and 32 hours. Working 4 days instead of 5 allows employees to juggle childcare concerns with work tasks.
A four-day workweek may encourage more women to find employment. Working moms will be allowed to spend one day during a workweek with their children. What’s maybe even more important, they won’t be treated differently from the rest of their coworkers.
Thus, a four-day workweek helps promote working moms’ equality, too.
Increased productivity and employee engagement
Employees perform better during a four-day workweek, according to the aforementioned Perpetual Guardian research.
This study shows that employees are more productive when they are given an extended weekend — i.e. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — to rest and relax. Workers will have more leisure time and will be more efficient at work.
Improved recruitment and retention of top talent
A four-day workweek makes a company more appealing to both current and future employees.
Namely, many people are dissatisfied when work takes over their lives.
Offering potential and current employees a flexible work schedule will aid in attracting and keeping skilled professionals.
Less commuting and eco-friendliness
By removing one day from the workweek, the total number of cars on the road would be reduced, saving fuel, and lowering vehicle emissions.
So, a 4-day workweek implies reducing one’s global carbon footprint and climate change contribution.
By minimizing commuting, we reduce transportation emissions, thus conserving energy.
The drawbacks of a 4-day workweek
As tempting as it may sound with the benefits it provides, a 4-day workweek also has some drawbacks.
Not applicable to every industry
For some sectors that necessitate 24/7 availability, a four-day workweek is difficult to establish. A four-day workweek, for instance, may make managing customer service issues complicated for your company.
In general, companies that provide services or time-sensitive products will be unable to close their entire office on a single workday.
Morale boosts may be fleeting
Employee satisfaction would undoubtedly improve if an organization implemented a four-day workweek policy. After all, it’s the same pay with fewer work hours.
But, the workforce may gradually take the four-day workweek for granted, just as people did when the workweek was reduced from seven to five days.
Moreover, some staff members may object to this type of weekly schedule.
Compromised stress levels
Workers will complete projects in fewer days while working fewer hours per week.
Employees may feel more pressure to complete tasks when racing against the clock.
For people who work directly with clients, work can still come in on non-working days. This could increase the amount of work during their working days, adding to the stress.
It may not be what employees truly want
According to decades of research, employees value flexibility more than any other advantage. They desire the freedom to carry out their plans when they please.
Workers don’t want their boss to inform them that they must work a 4-day or a 7-day workweek.
They want a chance to work hard and achieve exceptional outcomes, as well as defined objectives and room for progress. Flexibility makes employees generally happier and much more productive.
Compressing a 5-day workload into 4 days and all the stress that may arise as a result of it — because employees still have the same amount of work — really doesn’t sound so flexible.
4 Tips to introduce a 4-day workweek to your employees
Here are 4 tips that should be helpful if you decide to implement a 4-day workweek in your company.
Tip #1: Have a well-defined understanding of the goals you want to achieve
Taking the time to contemplate why you are changing the policy for a four-day workweek can be beneficial when writing one. Consider how a four-day workweek might increase productivity.
To implement the 4-day workweek policy better, ask yourself the following questions:
- How will it enhance the effectiveness of your organization?
- Will a 4-day workweek increase employee productivity and engagement?
- Can employee retention rates increase if you adopt a 4-day workweek policy?
Making the program’s goal visible and measurable will make the implementation process easier.
After all, in an outcome-based corporate culture, there is no room for ambiguity.
Shifting the goalposts or changing the requirements can undermine the overall goal of this strategy, which is to foster freedom and innovative problem-solving within a firm framework.
Managers should aim for accurate and efficient performance measurement and establish specific and well-defined metrics for their teams.
Ensure that the results align with the company’s goals and vision, and that the appropriate responsibilities within the teams are assigned.
Tip #2: Reevaluate your priorities
The most fundamental step toward effectively implementing a 4-day workweek is to recognize that it is about something other than completing the same volume of work in fewer days. Rather, it is about permanently removing lower-priority tasks from your to-do list.
If you lead a team, you may need to assist your staff members in reprioritizing their to-do lists and eliminating low-priority tasks that devour too much of their time. That’s simple if you use time tracking software, which shows you exactly where your time is taken up. Once you’ve acknowledged these tasks, determine whether they can be dismissed, automated, or outsourced.
It’s critical that you assess your own to-do list and free up some time. If you don’t, you’ll ultimately find yourself working on your days off and eventually dragging your team along with you.
Tip #3: Minimize the time spent in meetings
Meetings, unlike gravity, death, and taxes, are not an unstoppable force of nature. They’re a very human institution that we have a lot of power over. According to a survey, 83% of professionals spend somewhere around 4 to 12 hours per week on meetings. That’s up to one-third of the workweek!
Reducing the number of meetings per week is an easy method for maximizing your and your team’s time. Examine the meetings you’ve arranged with your teammates and third parties, and prepare a one-page meeting agenda that includes:
- Background information,
- Topics to be discussed, and
- The critical decisions you hope to make.
While this may appear to be extra work, 20 minutes of individual preparation can typically save an hour of meeting time.
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Discover more tips to make your meetings more productive:
Tip #4: Monitor KPIs
Moving to a four-day workweek stands to reason only if your company does not struggle as a result of the change and your team continues to meet its key performance indicators (KPIs).
KPIs represent the significant determinant of progress towards a goal and are typically assigned to each team. KPIs provide information on various aspects of an organization’s strategy and can be tailored to specific needs, industries, and departments.
After a few weeks of your 4-day workweek experiment, assess how well your team is meeting their KPIs, and what you can do about it:
- Are they staying on track, or are they finding it difficult to meet their objectives now that there is one fewer workday?
- If they can’t seem to meet their objectives, what can you, as their lead, do to fix this issue? Speak with the team to determine what is holding them back.
Countries that have embraced the 4-day workweek
The majority of the world’s countries have a five-day workweek. However, the concept of a four-day workweek is making inroads in many countries and industries.
As of late 2022, more than a dozen countries were conducting test cases and pilot programs to investigate the feasibility of a four-day workweek — and a few countries had officially implemented fixed four-day workweek options.
Here are some of the countries that adopted the 4-day workweek.
From August 2022 to January 2023, the Land Down Under started to run a four-day-a-week pilot project. The project entails 20 companies from Australia and New Zealand (the companies in question belong to the marketing, finance, technology, and mental health industries).
This project incorporates the 100-80-100 model with the additional goal of reducing climate impact through reduced energy and resource consumption. The 100-80-100 model implies that employees keep 100% of their income but minimize their hours to 80% if they maintain 100% productivity.
Beginning November 14, Unilever Australia will trial a four-day workweek for at least a year, based on the 100-80-100 model.
Belgium has joined the growing list of countries that will offer a four-day workweek starting in February 2022. Belgium’s program adheres to the 4/10 plan, which maintains the 40-hour per week requirement while shifting from eight-hour shifts five days per week to ten-hour shifts four days per week.
Full-time employees do not see a pay cut because their total hours remain constant. Employees are also legally permitted to turn off work-related equipment and disregard phone calls, texts, and emails received after hours.
Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has called for either four-day workweeks or six-hour workdays to be implemented in August 2019.
Marin’s ambitions are shared by many people who believe that one should work to live rather than the other way around. Now, despite overly optimistic internet rumors, this was nothing more than a call to action rather than an official decree.
The country’s actual adoption of a four-day workweek has been slow.
From 2015 to 2019, Iceland tested four-day, 35–36-hour weeks with over 2,500 employees, or approximately 1% of the total workforce. The businesses involved included police departments, schools, and the mayor’s office in Reykjavik. The employees were paid the same as before.
The test was deemed a resounding success.
Productivity remained constant or increased, work/life balance changed for the better, burnout and stress decreased, and office expenses such as electricity decreased.
Approximately 86% of Icelanders now work four-day weeks.
While four-day weeks have yet to be formally incorporated by Ireland’s government, they are a hot topic. In March 2022, there was a survey that included 1,500 Irish professionals, 54% of whom predicted that a four-day workweek would be the norm within five years.
In 2022, a six-month trial with at least 20 companies used the 100-80-100 model.
Approximately 6% of Irish businesses have implemented a four-day week, either permanently or on a trial basis.
Nova Scotia implemented a nine-month pilot program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in increases in both employee satisfaction and productivity. Individual businesses, such as Alida Inc. and Juno College, have already implemented a four-day workweek.
In April 2022, a new six-month trial involving 38 companies from the United States and Canada began. Naturally, many Canadian employers are cautious to implement this new workweek — particularly since many of the national and international findings are still new and, in many cases, based on small studies.
The impact of the four-day workweek on profit growth must also be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, which is not an easy task to do.
In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialed a four-day week with the same income but three-day weekends. And one of the favorable factors really showed — productivity increased by 40%.
Although Japanese culture has traditionally been very work-oriented, the Japanese government aims to promote a better culture and social balance and decrease the tendency for staff to overwork themselves.
As a result, Japan’s government has promoted four-day workweeks since June 2021.
As of late 2022, approximately 8.5% of businesses had endorsed the idea — but some were also reducing salaries by 20%.
Scotland spent ten million pounds on a four-day workweek trial experiment that was in operation from January to June 2022 and followed the 100-80-100 model.
The trial was successful, and several Scottish enterprises later upheld the reduced workweek.
The concept of four-day weeks is widely supported by Scots (80%). More tests appear to be inevitable.
In September 2021, Spain began a three-year government-funded trial with 200 to 400 businesses using the 100-80-100 model.
DESOL, a participating technology company, reported a 20% increase in revenue and a 20% decrease in absences.
In June 2022, Telefónica, the Spanish telecom giant, initiated a four-day week alternative for its staff — but with a respective 20% salary cut.
In 2015, Sweden experimented with a 4-day workweek with varied outcomes.
Beneficial effects were seen in the orthopedics unit of a university hospital. A total of 80 nurses and doctors were switched to a six-hour workday and hired new staff to compensate for the lost time.
The medical staff responded positively — they reported less stress and a better work/life balance. But, the experiment was heavily criticized due to the additional staff costs and was not revisited.
However, some companies, such as Toyota, have chosen to keep their employees working shorter hours.
In June 2022, a six-month trial began involving 70 companies and 3,300 employees using the 100-80-100 concept.
At the halfway point in September, 88% of participants said the four-day week has been effective.
Here are some other observations from the UK experiment:
- 46% of respondents said efficiency had largely remained constant,
- 34% said it had improved slightly, and
- 15% said it had improved significantly.
After the trial, 86% of respondents said they would probably stick with four-day weeks.
Several state and local governments have undertaken pilot programs, and dozens of individual companies, including Basecamp, Kickstarter, and Boulder, CO, have adopted a 4-day workweek.
The first fintech unicorn to adopt a four-day workweek was Bolt, based in California.
Speaking of the most common reasons employees prefer a 4-day workweek, Michael Parke, an Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School, believes that the demands for adaptability are filtering down to younger generations, who refuse to accept previous generations’ live-to-work ethos.
Conclusion: Embrace changes, plan in advance, and give a 4-day workweek a try
Condensing workweeks has many benefits, including improved productivity and more time to pursue individual interests.
However, some industries, businesses, or individuals do not function well on a four-day schedule.
Furthermore, it will not magically solve toxic workplaces or unpleasant jobs.
Everyone eager to try a four-day workweek should make sure to:
- Clearly define their goals and make them achievable,
- Reduce the number and length of meetings,
- Measure outcomes, and
- Be prepared to trial a 4-day workweek repeatedly.
Working 4 days a week does have its advantages. It may undoubtedly boost productivity — but the drawbacks should be carefully taken into account, too. Otherwise, all that stress might significantly compromise the workflow and its efficiency.
✉️ Have you heard about the 4-day workweek concept? Have you used it in practice with your employees? Or are you an employee who’s worked 4 days a week? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in this or one of our future articles. Also, if you liked this article, share it with someone else you know will find it useful.