Is a 4 Day Work Week Right For Your Business?

Andrew Buck's avatar Andrew Buck May 14, 2024

Sometimes, you need to challenge the norm, and ask if they way we always did things is the way we always should.

The traditional Monday to Friday work week is one of those norms. Most professionals work this way without question. But that might be starting to change.

In this article, we’ll examine why most the world works on a 5 day schedule, why some are challenging the status quo, and whether a 4 day work week could fit your business.

Key Takeaways

  • A four-day work week compresses the typical five day schedule into four days, with three days off.
  • It usually involves the same number of working hours per day, but with an additional day off.
  • Four day weeks have been trialed in several locations and companies, and in some cases resulted in no loss of productivity.

What is a 4 Day Work Week?

As the name suggests, a four day workweek is a compressed work schedule, where employees report to work 4 days a week. They get the remaining 3 days off, instead of the regular 2 day weekend. 

During the four days at work, employees still work their regular 8-hour shift. This compresses the overall work week into 32 hours, instead of 40.

At a glance:

the generally accepted norm today is a 40 hour weekMonday to Friday, 9-5.

The 4 day workweek proposes we lose one day, resulting in four days of work for 32 hours a week.

Workers may get Fridays off, Mondays off, or have the flexibility to choose their working days during the week.

What Companies Have Adopted a 4 Day Work Week?

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.

Why Do We Work 5 Days a Week?

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 don’t we 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. 

Pros and Cons of a 4 Day Work Week

A four day workweek is a relatively new concept. 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. They provided full salary for fewer hours worked, highlighting productivity and wellbeing as key potential benefits.

Wondering whether it’s right for your business? Here are some of the pros and cons of applying a four day workweek.

Pro: More Time Off

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, less than 40 hours per week, means more time for:

Further reading: Learn how employee burnout happens, how it’s affecting your business, and how to prevent it.

Pro: Eliminate Inefficiencies

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.

You can also use software that streamlines and simplifies time-consuming tasks – like Flamingo does for your HR departments’ leave management system.

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. 

Pro: Happier, More Engaged Staff

With more time off, it’s natural that your employees will be happier and less stressed. The Iceland trial backs this up.

Happier employees means less burnout, and a lower rate of sick leave, or stress leave/mental health leave.

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.

Pro: Track Metrics That Matter

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.

This alone may increase motivation for your team members, by knowing that their performance is what matters, not the hours they spend in the office.

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.

Con: May Not Be Suitable for Hourly Workers

A four day workweek

If you pay many employees by the hour, you might encounter some complications when switching 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.

Con: Potential Impact on Customer Service

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 so that employees’ working hours rotate evenly and cover all times when you need to serve or respond to 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.

Try Flamingo for free and get set up in five minutes.

Learn More

Can a Four Day Work Week Really Work?

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, it turns out that we complete most of our work in exactly five days, eight hours per day.

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, our work takes five days, or 40 hours, because that’s the time we have available. If we had less time available, we’d likely complete our work faster.

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 four 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.

Final Thoughts 

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.

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. 

Andrew Buck's avatar

Andrew Buck

Andrew is the content manager at Flamingo. He has managed teams in multiple industries, for both physical and remote businesses, and has experience dealing with the ins and outs of HR and leave management on a daily basis.

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