The 4-Day Work Week
June 29, 2022 | BY Simcha Felder , CPA, MBA
The pandemic has made many companies rethink what flexibility looks like in the workplace. Hybrid work schedules are becoming increasingly common, as are flexible work hours. Employees are more concerned than ever about their work-life balance and the culture of their workplace. All these factors have brought the perennial idea of the four-day work week back into the public discussion.
The concept is simple – employees would work four days a week while being paid the same and earning the same benefits, but also while maintaining the same workload. The thinking is that by reducing their work week, organizations could operate with fewer meetings and more independent work. Governments across Europe have started experimenting with the four-day work week. Last year, Kickstarter became the latest in a string of organizations to announce they were experimenting with a four-day workweek.
Research suggests that reducing work hours can decrease employee stress, and improve well-being without impacting productivity, but only when implemented correctly. To illustrate, in a recent study about New Zealand’s move to the four-day workweek, researchers Helen Delaney and Catherine Casey found that not only was work intensified following the change, but so were managerial pressures around performance measurement, monitoring, and productivity. It is simply not sustainable or reasonable to expect already frazzled employees to keep working with existing workloads for fewer hours or less days.
While reducing employee hours or workdays is certainly not for every business, there may be companies out there whose employees will benefit from a shift to less hours or days. A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines a six-step guide to help leaders plan and implement a four-day workweek.
- Shifting your mindset – For a four-day workweek to be successful, leaders must shift their mindsets to value actual productivity, not just hours worked. While hours worked is an easily quantifiable metric, it often doesn’t correspond to the actual value added to an organization.
- Employees and leaders define goals and metrics together – Both employees and leaders should be actively involved in the planning process and should jointly answer important questions on implementation. Whether there is a joint work group or just regularly scheduled meetings between leadership and employees, here are some questions that should be considered: How will the organization measure productivity? Which days or hours should we take off? How can we keep the change from negatively impacting our clients, customers, and other stakeholders? What steps can we take to increase our productivity?
- Communicate internally and externally – Internally, the biggest questions will likely be about how the change will affect people’s jobs. Be clear about your reasons for trying out the four-day workweek and assure your employees that it will not negatively affect their pay or benefits. Externally, many companies worry about what their clients will think if they reduce hours. Those worries can often be addressed by simple communication. Identify which customers or stakeholders might be affected and ensure the scheduling change is communicated clearly. You may be surprised about how receptive they‘ll be to the change.
- Run a Pilot – Now it’s time to act! Remember that in the pilot stage, the goal isn’t to get everything right from day one; it is about creating the tools and processes your organization needs to make reduced work hours possible. During this time, problems will arise. Try your best to address them as they happen and create an environment where people feel safe sharing their thoughts and concerns.
- Assess the Pilot – Once the pilot is complete, analyze the results using different metrics. Group interviews can provide insight into employees’ experiences, and job satisfaction surveys can help identify trends in stress levels, work-life balance, and quality of life. As far as productivity, relevant metrics will depend on your industry, such as number of sales or average completion time of projects.
- Implementation – Leaders will need to work across the organization to embed the new practices into the workplace culture. Be sure to remain focused on productivity — not hours worked — as the metric of success. Track metrics over the long term and adapt your processes according to what they show. Every organization will uncover its own challenges when moving to a reduced work hours policy, but with constant communication and staying flexible, most issues can be addressed quickly.
Workplace norms have shifted over the last two years. Today we find ourselves in a transitional period in the American workplace and we have the chance to remake our concept of work before things go back to the way they were. It’s an opportunity leaders must not squander. While no change comes easily, leaders willing to embrace the changes have a chance to push their businesses ahead of the competition by having more engaged employees who better service their clients.