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Four-Day Workweek: Yay or Nay?

The topic of workplace flexibility is top of mind as employees recover from an intense adjustment to a coronavirus (COVID-19) work environment. One creative way employers have supported a better work-life balance is by shortening the hours or days in a workweek, so employees have more personal time. The four-day workweek is gaining traction and companies like Unilever and Kickstarter are testing a condensed work schedule to see how it affects business. Early research shows that workers are happier with a four-day workweek. No surprise there. But data also show these unexpected benefits emerge from early adopters.

Increased teamwork: Ben Eltz, CEO of Diamondback, noticed a shift in employee attitude when employees were given the opportunity to try out a reduced workweek. They started helping each other. Employees started watching out for the group and offering to help others so they all could take advantage of the shortened week. Employees wanted the program to be a success, so they adopted a “we” mentality.

Less wasted time: Perpetual Guardian, an early adopter of a four-day schedule, noticed that a shorter workweek also affected how much of the week workers spent on non-work activities. For example, employees’ time on non-work websites was reduced by 35%. A hypothesis is that the extra day off served as a great placeholder for appointments and calls so personal activities did not dig into “on the job” time.

Increased productivity: Surprisingly, companies who have made this progressive change saw they were able to get the same, if not more, accomplished in less time. Nicole Miller, an HR executive at Buffer, observed that a shorter schedule meant less “busy work” or meetings took place so people could focus on getting their work done. The anecdotal results are a great example of Parkinson’s Law – a concept that work will expand to fit the time available. In other words, if you know you have more time to complete a presentation, then you will likely spend more time working on it and may make it more complicated.

The 4 Day Week Global Foundation is leading a campaign encouraging employers to pilot a shortened workweek. Test driving this new structure is a great way to see how it affects the business, clients, and employees. As HR teams and leadership evaluate whether their organization could support a change of this caliber, it is critical to ask for employee feedback and involvement. How can they work together, or work differently to make sure goals are being met and clients are satisfied? Employees play the largest role in ensuring success of this program.