The 4 day working week has long been a topic of conversation at the staff lunch table. We’ve all heard about the compelling legends of Scandinavian countries trying out the 4 day working week to great success.
But is implementing a 4 day working week realistic outside of a trial model? And if yes, is it right for your organisation?
To help you weigh up the benefits of a 4 day work week against the disadvantages, here’s everything you need to know about this trending workplace model.
What is a 4 day work week?
In Australia, employees can work up to 38 hours a week. This translates to around 7.6 hours per day, which we typically complete on a rolling Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 basis.
Australia’s average working hours are comparatively fewer than the combined average in OECD countries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
A 4 day work week could condense our work to around 32-35 hours per week, which we would schedule over 4 days, or, we could work the same amount of hours but over 4 days rather than 5. Either way, the principle is that an organisation and it’s employees could earn the same amount of money, completing the same amount of work within a shorter period of time. It is possible, but, it is not without consideration to the broader issues (which we will discuss later).
Of course, the 4 day work week would only be applicable in certain business models as it would be unrealistic to expect all shift workers to limit their working days even further.
Benefits of a 4 day work week
There are countless benefits of a 4-day work week. If there weren’t – why would so many people be talking about it?
Here are some of the most impactful 4 day work week advantages.
Even though companies may suggest otherwise when assigning employers piles of work to complete on overtime, there isn’t a definite correlation between time and productivity.
In fact, there are studies that suggest productivity improves when a person is experiencing less stress and shorter working hours.
Evidence of this can be found in Germany, where the average working week is a mere 26 hours – one of the lowest in the world. Despite this, Germany has the largest economy in Europe and the 4th highest GDP in the world.
Of course, facts like these should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are other complexities that influence the relationship between productivity and time including national and local resources, average income, minimum wage, cultural pressures, job opportunities and education levels.
But it’s important to note nonetheless that just because someone is working longer hours, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are contributing to a higher profit margin.
Reduced organisational carbon footprint
We’ve all noticed the endless streams of traffic that accumulate on the highway each weekday morning.
Reduced working hours unsurprisingly correlate to shrinking demand on private car travel. A study conducted in the UK found that transitioning to a 4-day work week would cut British carbon emissions by around 20% over a 5 year period.
Decreased business overhead costs
Did you know that reduced office hours can have a dramatic impact on overhead costs?
In Microsoft Japan’s trial of a 4 day working week, business energy costs dropped by an incredible 23%.
But a 4 day work week doesn’t just alleviate a business’s energy and electricity bills. Other costs that accumulate over the week such as employee perks, water bills, office supplies and cleaning services.
Improved employee health, satisfaction and work-life balance
For most of us, the weekend is the highlight of our week. It gives us a chance to detox from the stresses of work as we relax, engage in our hobbies and catch up with friends and family. The only thing that’s better than a weekend is a long weekend, so why not make every Friday a ‘public holiday’?
A four day working week improves overall mental health and decreases stress, as employees have more time to prioritise the ‘life’ aspect of the work-life balance. Both stress and mental illness stemming from demanding working hours can contribute to physical sickness and even decreased life expectancies. Considering this, transitioning to a four day working week seems like the natural next step in the progression of humanity.
Attract and retain talent
With almost all organisations currently working Monday to Friday hours, companies that offer a 4 day week will undeniably attract the attention of top talent.
There’s research to back this claim up. The organisation 4 Day Work Global found that around two thirds of organisations that trialled a 4 day work week reported easier talent attraction and retention processes.
Challenges of a 4 day work week proposal
While it’s easy to get caught up in the exciting possibilities that a 4 day work week could entail, there are certain challenges that can arise from working one less day each week.
Longer working days and more overtime
Compressed working hours mean that the four days within a 4 day work week may become increasingly stressful. Monday to Thursday work days will grow 90 minutes longer, meaning many employees will be working between 8am to 5pm (or 9am to 6pm), with only a half an hour lunch break in the middle.
Potential reduction in revenue
It can be difficult to implement a 4 day work week proposal when your competitors or stakeholders are still conducting business Monday through to Friday. Some businesses may even experience a reduction in revenue due to the fact that they are not providing the consistency in services that their customers expect.
Difficulties surrounding work expectations
A 4 day working week that is poorly managed will disrupt current business processes and may result in confusion amongst employees about their roles and responsibilities. If you want to fully capture the 4 day work week advantages, your organisation will require an in-depth human resource strategy to seamlessly integrate a new working model.
Strategies for managing 4 day work week productivity
Before you send everyone home next Thursday evening with a ‘see you on Monday’, it’s best to conduct a trial of the 4 day work week to see if it’s realistic for your workplace to adopt.
When running a trial testing your organisation’s 4 day work week productivity, make sure you follow these steps:
Determine if your business model is suited to the 4 day work week
If you work in healthcare, hospitality, customer service or any other industry that demands a consistent presence, then implementing a 4 day working week may not be realistic (at least, for now).
Research current companies offering a 4 day work week and determine whether any of them share commonalities with your business model. Certain jobs and industries may be better suited to incorporating a 4 day work week, such as software development, data science and marketing.
Identify the benefits that your business will gain from the transition
What are you looking to achieve in a 4 day work week and how will you measure its success? Is your business struggling with employee retention rates and hoping to experience a decrease in turnover through implementing a 4 day work week? Or are you aiming to provide better support for staff engagement?
Consider taking a survey of your employees to narrow down the specific goals of your 4 day work week proposal. Then, convert this feedback into key performance indicators you will use to measure the success of your trial.
Define what a 4 day work week will look like for your business
There are many different models to mould your 4 day working week around. Here are some popular 4 day work week structures used around the globe:
Monday to Thursday, 8am to 5:30pm with only a 30 minute lunch break
Employees choose a day that most suits them to have off and then work increased hours on the remaining work days
Employers designate a specific day (e.g. a Monday or Thursday) that works best with their business functions for employees to take off
Cut down on unnecessary meetings
Under a 4 day working model, productivity should be prioritised. If your company is guilty of running business meetings that turn into discussions about popular television shows or current affairs, it’s time to implement more structure to your days.
There are lots of tools you can use to improve meeting productivity. Implement a clear agenda for meetings or start collecting meeting ‘grades’ from staff to reflect on areas that could be improved.
Document your policies
Any workplace change can be confusing. This is especially true for one that disrupts a work structure that has been considered the norm for most people’s entire working lives.
Ensure that everyone has access to your company’s 4 day work week policies so they can stay on top of what is expected of them throughout the process. Update your employee handbook to provide employees with a central location for accessing information about what’s expected of them in the transition.
Set a policy for part-time employees
If your workplace has part-time employees, you’ll have to identify how you ease their transition to a 4 day week. Are you expecting them to work the same hours as they did under a 5 day work week model? Or could you realistically cut down their working hours in a way that reflects the changing working environment?
Have a discussion with your part-time staff to gain a clearer understanding of their expectations and preferences in transferring to a 4 day work week.
Ready to make the move to a 4 day work week?
While it may feel like the typical Monday to Friday, 9-5 routine is a constant in our lives, the world of working hours has experienced dramatic changes over the years.
For many, the transition to a 4 day work week is a castle in the sky that’s overly optimistic about the inevitable challenges associated with cutting down on working hours. But just as we abandoned the 70+ hour work week that was considered the norm in the early 19th century, we shouldn’t shy away from progression if it improves our quality of life – even if there will be difficulties.
PerformHR provides workplaces with strategic HR project support to help with the internal challenges that can arise from transitioning to a 4 day work week.
Get in touch with us today to find out more about how you could transform your organisation into a workplace of the future with a 4 day work week.