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The Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Work Week

Various companies have begun testing the 4 day work week as a way of giving employees a greater work/life balance while maintaining the same level of productivity. But is it as viable as we think?

The modern work environment is constantly evolving with new software and technology being introduced to the workplace. However, in recent years, so has the workplace structure. Various companies have begun testing the 4 day work week as a way of giving employees a greater work/life balance while maintaining the same level of productivity. Governments in SpainScotland and even rural Ontario are all either considering, or actively running trials of four-day-long work weeks. Private companies including Unilever in New Zealand and the U.S. fintech startup Bolt are doing the same.

Toronto has seen dozens of businesses adopt this organizational model with great success. They have reported an improved job satisfaction, productivity and retention among employees. But is it all sunshine and rainbows for this new lifestyle? Does it apply the same to all industries and sectors? In this blog we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the 4 day work week strategy.

Pros of 4 Day Work Week

While management’s initial decision might be a definitive ‘no’ to this new structure, its likely most employees are a resounding ‘yes’. Before you turning down the adoption of a 4 day work week, it’s worthwhile to examine all the ways it can benefit your staff and your organization.

Increased productivity

Although there is a 20% reduction in work time, the results haven’t showed a 20% reduction in productivity. In 2019, Microsoft Japan found that moving to a four-day workweek increased productivity by 40%. They also saved more than 20% on electricity costs over the previous year and reduced the number of pages printed by almost 60%.

Motivation

Considering either compressed or reduced hours, can be a strong motivator for employees when trialing this system. Like any other benefit, it’s perceived as a way the business can support its staff members on and off the job. Due it being such a privilege to have 3 days off a week, it motivates employees even more to work hard and achieve their goals in a shorter period of time.

Less downtime

The same poll found management reporting 62% fewer sick days being used. When employees have that extra day off during traditional business hours, they’re better able to schedule personal necessities. They can make doctor’s and other appointments on their regular day off without taking time away from the job.

Cost savings

A Henley Business School poll of business leaders asked whether the four-day workweek was cost-effective. The responses showed that 51% reported cost savings. These include lower facilities and utilities costs while almost two-thirds report improved productivity.

Attracting talent

According to ZipRecruiter, job postings listing a 4-day workweek have tripled in the last 5 years. Post-pandemic hiring challenges could make that trend increase. As the competition for talent surges, top job seekers are looking for the best possible opportunity. A compressed or shortened workweek might fit the bill.

Retention

The key to retaining employees is avoiding burnout and focusing on wellness. A 2020 Gallup poll of over 10,000 workers found the lowest level of job burnout in employees who worked a 4-day week. Additionally, 4-day workweek employees reported the highest rates of ‘thriving wellbeing’ at 63% of those polled.

Cons of a 4 day Work Week

Unfortunately, a four-day week model doesn’t suit every business. It’s an option that is only viable for companies who can re-adapt their whole business to a new way of working. Adopting a different way of working is a big step. One needs to consider whether or not a four-day week is right for your company. 

The Cost

In the U.S., and in other countries, full-time employees can cost more than their annual salary. On top of that lies the cost of benefits like pensions and health insurance. Additionally, employers may not be able to hire more people to cover decreased working hours. In addition, many workers prioritize a higher pay to working fewer days/ hours a week. In 2014, YouGov and HuffPost poll conducted a poll recording approximately 50% of American workers saying they would work an additional day a week for 20% more pay.

The Equality

If a four-day work week starts to seriously gain traction, one of the biggest disadvantages could be that it might widen existing inequalities. For example, shift based workers who get paid on an hourly rate will be affected if hours are reduced. The same goes for manual workers. They may not get the opportunity to avail of a 4-day work week while many others do.

Not All Industries Can Participate

As highlighted above, some industries require a 24/7 presence or other similar scheduling for optimal flow. This makes a four-day work week almost impossible to implement. If your business revolves around customer service, opponents have pointed out that it may be difficult to manage problems that arise with customers during four-day week. It can be important for companies to address issues during the weekdays and weekends, no matter the industry. Making sure each area of the business is covered during the workday can require more effort scheduling and forethought.

Difficult Team Management

Managing multiple teams on a four-day work week can be challenging, especially if the business runs 24/7. If these employee days off are scattered, it can be difficult to set up team meetings and it can be difficult to manage projects. Employees may also feel pressured to tune in on their days off, so they don’t miss anything important, making the days off not so attractive.

The Risk Is Expensive

Opponents say the most glaring drawback for employers is the cost risk associated with a four-day work week, especially if employees fail to meet work requirements. In Sweden’s two-year trial of a reduced working week (from 40 hours a week to 30 hours a week), they found higher worker satisfaction, but the experiment became far too costly to continue successfully.

Workers May Put In The Same Hours Regardless

Certain jobs just take time to do completely, and some jobs may not be suited to reduced hours. In one four-day work week experiment in France, they found workers ended up putting in the same hours anyway. The only difference is that the company had to pay overtime which is an added expense for the company.

The implementation of a 4 day work week has both its advantages and its drawbacks. Depending on your industry and work culture, this new system can be either a hindrance or a big success to your organization. Adopting this new method poses its risks and certainly hasn’t worked out for some entities. However, it is clear that under the right circumstances, both productivity and employee satisfaction can prosper under this system, benefiting all parties involved.

As we’ve already seen a big rise in companies and countries adopting this strategy, who knows how long it will be until it becomes the norm?

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