Is a Four Day Work Week in Your Future?

Many of our clients are currently experimenting with the idea of flex schedules for their employees. While not as common of an experiment in the U.S., one of most common seen worldwide, is the idea of a four-day work week. Experts predict this structure could quickly gain popularity here at home. Though countries like Australia and England have been testing various models for years, many U.S. companies are just now considering this move. Studies have shown plenty of benefits, but there are some real drawbacks as well.

The primary benefit – and the one that informs just about every other benefit – is that employees are generally happier working in this model. This idea attracts game changers to your recruiting process too.  Happier employees tend to be much more productive, motivated, and engaged.

Productivity – Whether they work a compressed week (10-hours a day for four days) or a shortened week (32-hour week), employees tend to be more focused and more productive during their working hours. They typically report feeling that the clock is ticking, so they spend less time socializing, less time on social media and take shorter lunch breaks. Microsoft Japan tested a four-day work week and reported a 40% increase in productivity (and a 23% decrease in electricity).

Motivation – Employees working in this arrangement are motivated to become more efficient and spend less time “sitting in meetings”. Furthermore, they look to their “off” day for doctors’ appointments, volunteering or spending time at home with their families. And, they are determined to go the extra mile during the week to earn this time.

Engagement – The stronger work/life balance allows employees to be more engaged at work. Stress levels go down and satisfaction increases. This leads to a significant bump in employee retention. This level of flexibility is very difficult to find in the market and many employees are reluctant to give it up once they have it. It has become an important part of the culture they aren’t willing to leave behind.

Of course, there are some real draw backs to adopting this model. It certainly doesn’t work for every business and unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all template. The retail or service industry probably won’t lend itself to something like this. Even if you do not operate within these industries, you may be surprised by some of the factors to consider before experimenting.

Logistics – Many of the logistics make it difficult to comprehend how this could work in reality. Does everyone get the same day off? Are days off staggered? How so? How do you keep track of the time? If it’s not the same day, then team members may be tough to track down and meetings may be difficult to get on the books. Some employees might even have trouble scheduling their personal lives since childcare and commuting costs are often arranged and paid for based on a traditional Monday through Friday work week.

Payroll – Do you work with compressed weeks or shortened weeks?  Maybe a combination, but that may get messy.  A 32-hour work week would impact your hourly, non-exempt workers. And in the childcare example above, this employee could lose salary but likely pay for an extra day of daycare they no longer need.

Work Stressors – Some employees in these trials report feeling MORE stressed – primarily from trying to “beat the clock” – and rather than see increased productivity the experience a dip towards the end of the week.  Managers sometimes feel like they are working more than 10 hours a day to get it all done, but either way still feel compelled to answer emails or call into meetings on their “off” days.

There are many who doubt traditional American beliefs around work and capitalism can change enough to allow something like this to take place. An employer may simply ask the question that if you can get your work done in less time, then why don’t I just pay you less or give you more work to do?  However, with the benefits of other flexible work arrangements, maybe now is a good time to contemplate this idea further.