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Sometimes, things just are the way they are. These are things we accept to be the norm because that’s all we’ve ever known.
Any unfamiliar deviations from such norms are met with stern skepticism, and often ridicule.
Challenging the status quo can be perceived as risky, or even crazy and reckless. At the other end of the spectrum, some might suggest that these new ideas are brave, bold, and forward-thinking.
In this article, we will examine one of these ideas that we’ve traditionally accepted as the norm – the five day workweek. We will also explore the four day workweek, and why it may be the future of work.
We’ll talk about the pros and cons of a four day workweek, which include increased productivity and a better work-life balance for employees, and if adopting this new workweek structure might be the right fit for your business.
As the name suggests, a four day workweek is a compressed work schedule, where employees report to work 4 days a week.
And they get the remaining 3 days off, instead of the regular 2 day weekend.
During the 4 days, employees still work the regular 8-hour shift. So, the overall workweek is compressed to 32 hours a week instead of 40 hours.
Here are some noteworthy companies and states that have put in place a trial or switched to a four day workweek option for their employees.
Who decided that every single human being on planet earth reaches peak productivity between 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday-Friday?
Why is it that we have universally accepted those blocks of time as work hours?
We’re all unique individuals with different characteristics. Some of us are morning people, and some of us do our best work at night.
Why aren’t we encouraged to do our work when we are most switched on, focused, and creative?
Here’s how it all started.
The first 5-day workweek was instituted back in 1908 in the United States by a New England cotton mill to allow Jewish workers to observe Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Henry Ford followed in 1926 and started shutting down his plants on Saturday and Sunday, and instituted the 5-day workweek instead of a 6-day schedule, without reducing pay.
And in 1940 the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, with this legislation mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek, which is what we still have today.
If we could go from a 6-day work week to a 5-day work week in 1940, it certainly stands to reason that in 2021, with all the technological tools at our disposal, we can further reduce the workweek to 4 days without sacrificing production.
A four day workweek is a relatively new concept, and we don’t have enough data on it yet to come to any hard conclusions.
But the preliminary evidence is promising.
For example, the Iceland government conducted the largest trial of a shorter workweek with 2500 of their public sector employees. According to the results, the trial was a resounding success.
Employees reported feeling happier, more enthusiastic, and less stressed, all without any dip in productivity.
Iceland is now moving towards making four day workweeks an option for most of its workforce, both in the private and public sectors.
In another trial, Unilever New Zealand decided to pilot a four day week for all 81 of their employees, providing full salary for fewer hours worked, highlighting productivity and wellbeing as key potential benefits.
If you can make it fit in your business, here are some of the pros and cons to consider when it comes to a four day workweek.
Everyone in the company gets more time off, including the founders and executives.
In fact, it was seasoned founders from Korea and Japan, two countries where long hours and burnout are far too common, that helped bring the idea of a shorter workweek to the forefront.
Some of them were facing exhaustion and burnout themselves, and they recognized that the culture of endless long hours was not sustainable.
Working four days a week, and less than 40 hours per week means more time for family/friends, random but vital admin tasks like errands and chores, and also more time to dedicate towards a healthier lifestyle and a work-life balance.
A shorter workweek should not be confused with getting less work done, or at least doing less of the things that matter.
For most businesses, there are opportunities to eliminate inefficiencies and increase employee productivity.
Maybe you can have fewer and shorter meetings. Or perhaps you can plan focus sessions where teams get together and work distraction-free for set periods of time.
The point is, reducing the time you spend at work will force you to identify and eliminate waste, and get creative about accomplishing more in less time.
Ultimately, it will make both your team and your company more efficient.
If your team has more time to spend on their well being and doing things they love, it is natural that they’ll be happier and it will minimize stress, as evident from the Iceland trial.
Happier employees means less burnout, and a lower chance of them requesting time off for mental health or excess stress levels.
You allow staff to have a better work-life balance, giving them what is essentially a three day weekend to spend more time away from the office, doing whatever makes them feel fulfilled.
When your employees are happy and engaged, they’ll be excited to show up for work. They’ll go above and beyond to perform at their best, and they’ll create the type of company and work environment that attracts other top performers to your team.
When you shift focus away from how much time an employee spends at work, you’ll start focusing on metrics that really matter – performance.
You’ll start evaluating your impression of team members based on how well they meet KPIs.
Simply knowing that they’re being measured based on performance can potentially motivate your team to kick it up a notch.
And they won’t be reluctant to go hard for the four days they’re at work because they know that they’ll have plenty of time off to rest and recharge during their three day weekend.
If you have many employees who are paid by the hour, it could cause some complications when trying to switch over to a four day workweek.
You’ll be asking them to essentially take a 20% pay cut unless you also increase their hourly wages, which may cause payroll and accounting complications.
And not only are you asking them to make less money, but also increase their productivity at the same time, which will almost certainly have an adverse effect on employee morale.
Most people like more time off as long as it doesn’t significantly hurt their income, so a four day week might not be the best fit in cases where staff aren’t paid on salary.
Fewer hours at work means less time answering queries from customers. Unless you plan properly, a four day work week could end up leaving customer queries unanswered for longer.
You can get around this issue by planning your team’s work schedule in such a way that everyone only works four days a week, but they are rotated in such a way that there’s always someone to address any issues or concerns from customers.
A leave tracker app like Flamingo will allow you to efficiently manage your team’s schedule in a way that makes sure you’re always adequately staffed, even as you provide more time off to each employee.
Yes, it can definitely work if you have the right type of people in place. Employees that value their rejuvenation just as much as their high performance.
We’ve all accepted that five days of work is the norm because that’s all we’ve ever known. And consequently, we plan and structure our tasks in such a way that it takes us exactly 5 days, 8 hours each day, to get things done.
That’s interesting, isn’t it?
The famous Parkinson’s Law states the following – work expands to fill the period of time available for its completion.
In other words, we take five days, or 40 hours, to get things done because that’s the time we have available. If we have four days, or a 32 hour week, to do the same, we’ll invariably end up getting the same amount of work done.
It’s the same reason that we always leave it right until the deadline to complete assignments.
This is not to say that switching to a 4 day, 32 hour workweek wouldn’t take a period of adjustment, but to come away with happier staff and better performance, it might be worth the extra effort.
A four day workweek is a relatively new concept in the workplace. But now more than ever, there is a greater emphasis on wellness and work-life balance.
Flexible hours and more time off rank only below healthcare when it comes to the most desirable work benefits. And since the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more employees are beginning to crave the workplace flexibility they had when offices were forced to close.
A 4 day work week accomplishes many things for your business. And if the data from pilot programs around the world provides any clues, then you don’t have to worry about a dip in your productivity, assuming of course it fits your team.
Flamingo makes managing your team’s paid time off a breeze.