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4 minutes

Pros & Cons of a Four-Day Workweek

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

With the move to remote work offered by the pan­dem­ic, busi­ness­es are tak­ing the time to reassess the new work uni­verse they inhab­it. Has work­ing at home led to greater pro­duc­tiv­i­ty? If so, can that increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty be lever­aged to cre­ate a new work­ing par­a­digm that can offer the desir­able duo of remote work + a four-day work­week? Brag­Wor­thy Pod­cast guest Lar­ry Duni­van men­tioned a four-day work­week was being con­sid­ered at Name­ly recent­ly. With that in mind, we’ll exam­ine the pros and cons of a short­er work­week to help you assess whether it’s the right move for your business.

What a Four-Day Workweek Is Not

Many are famil­iar with a com­pressed 40-hour sched­ule which has been in effect for many years at some busi­ness­es. They take a five-day work­week, com­press it into four, and then cre­ate a ​“free” day.

This has not been a mod­el that has been copied for good rea­son: it often doesn’t boost employ­ee sat­is­fac­tion or pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Employ­ees usu­al­ly feel that they have to do more work in less time (even though math­e­mat­i­cal­ly, they still have the same num­ber of hours). They some­times end up work­ing on the ​“off” day any­way, as the mind­set isn’t about lever­ag­ing pro­duc­tiv­i­ty to do more work in less time, but rather, to do the same work, but just faster.

What a Four-Day Workweek Is

A four-day work­week is not about doing the same work faster, it’s about rely­ing on high­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty from hap­pi­er, more relaxed, more rest­ed work­ers. Effec­tive­ly, it’s a com­pa­ny shav­ing off a day of work while main­tain­ing the same pay. If a com­pa­ny pro­pos­es the com­pressed mod­el we ref­er­enced above, that’s not real­ly a four-day work­week, but a ​“five in four” idea.

Advantages of a Four-Day Work Week


As we allud­ed to already, employ­ees that have more time off are more pro­duc­tive. The skep­ti­cal can con­sult stud­ies done with Per­pet­u­al Guardian in New Zealand and Microsoft in Japan. The work­ers were 20% and 40%, more pro­duc­tive respec­tive­ly. Buffer has doc­u­ment­ed their try-before-com­mit­ting four-day work week and that’s what they’ve moved to for the fore­see­able future.

These stud­ies under­line what many peo­ple may have sus­pect­ed: employ­ees who are giv­en more time off feel more like per­sons and less like cogs in a face­less machine.

Push Back Against ​“Always On”

A four-day work­week is a con­scious deci­sion against the blur­ring of work and life bound­aries that tech­nol­o­gy has enabled. By telling employ­ees through pol­i­cy that life is more than work, com­pa­nies are sig­nal­ing their val­ues — and those val­ues are attractive.

Recruiting and Retention Tool

Just as remote work has become new­ly nor­mal­ized as an expect­ed work­ing sce­nario for poten­tial employ­ees and the com­pa­nies they are con­sid­er­ing, so has the four-day workweek.

This con­cept, which is part of a mod­el of flex­i­ble work­ing times that focus­es on out­put rather than hours, has also become attrac­tive. And this is not just some­thing that can bring in new tal­ent — it can keep exist­ing tal­ent from leav­ing. Once team mem­bers have been exposed to the par­a­digm of an out­come rather than a time-based, work envi­ron­ment, going back to a five-day work week can feel like flush­ing hours of your life down the drain. The four-day work­week is an incen­tive to keep your tal­ent in-house instead of shed­ding them to the competition.

Disadvantages of a Four-Day Work Week

Not Universal

There are obvi­ous­ly indus­tries that can­not move to a four-day work­week because their busi­ness mod­el doesn’t per­mit it. Med­ical ser­vices and hos­pi­tal­i­ty come to mind right away. Those indus­tries have to pro­vide 247 access and rely on shift hand-offs that don’t allow for even a six-day work­week. They are on a sev­en-day work­week, all the time — and we appre­ci­ate their sacrifice!

Customer Service Might Suffer

Even if you are not in one of those full-time indus­tries we men­tioned above, a four-day work­week can still be a chal­lenge for your cus­tomer ser­vice team. Either they will not be able to take advan­tage of a ben­e­fit that the rest of your team has, or cus­tomers will face delays in deal­ing with issues.

Yet such delays can lead cus­tomers to adjust their expec­ta­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly if they tru­ly care for and are engaged with your brand. It’s esti­mat­ed that Chick-Fil‑A los­es $1B a year by not work­ing on Sun­days. How­ev­er, the com­pa­ny has reaped a num­ber of non-finan­cial rewards for this stance with all their stake­hold­ers, from share­hold­ers to employ­ees to customers.

Productivity May Not Materialize

While stud­ies show that pro­duc­tiv­i­ty can jump as high as 40%, if it doesn’t move at least 20%, the com­pa­ny will be los­ing mon­ey for its move to a four-day work­week, per­haps putting itself into an uncom­pet­i­tive posi­tion rel­a­tive to the marketplace.

This is why Buffer’s cau­tious approach is a mod­el oth­er com­pa­nies con­sid­er­ing a move to a four-day work­week might con­sid­er. They start­ed with a one-month tri­al, then a six-month one, before mov­ing to a four-day work­week indef­i­nite­ly. At each stage, they mea­sured pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, but more impor­tant­ly, queried their team mem­bers about how they felt. With­out buy-in from your team mem­bers, such a move will nev­er work.

Final Thoughts

Not long ago, a wide­spread move to a true four-day work­week may have seemed just as unlike­ly as a wide­spread move to remote work. Still, the lat­ter just hap­pened on a glob­al scale over a very short peri­od of time — months, not years.

The tech­nol­o­gy had been in place for a long time before March 2020, but con­ser­v­a­tive cau­tion pre­vent­ed many com­pa­nies from tak­ing that leap. When ​“forced” into remote work, many com­pa­nies not only real­ized that their fears about ​“unsu­per­vised” employ­ees were unfound­ed, they also real­ized some sig­nif­i­cant finan­cial sav­ings in unused over­head costs.

The same is true of the four-day work week, some­thing sim­ply adja­cent to remote work. If we can trust peo­ple to work from home out­side of the old mod­el of in-office-only, we can sim­i­lar­ly allow peo­ple to become more pro­duc­tive out­side of the old mod­el of a five-day workweek.

All that remains is to give a four-day work­week a tri­al in your busi­ness. The only thing you have to lose is an extra day of work.

Check Out the Full Episode

Inter­est­ed in learn­ing more ways to build a bet­ter cul­ture? Check out the episode of The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy. Jor­dan talks with Lar­ry Duni­van, CEO of Name­ly. Name­ly pro­vides a user-expe­ri­ence-focused plat­form for HR, pay­roll, ben­e­fits, and tal­ent man­age­ment. Lar­ry talks about how he had always want­ed to be a CEO in HR Tech in NYC, and how a few months after he ticked that achieve­ment off his buck­et list, a pan­dem­ic hit. He shares how Name­ly nav­i­gat­ed that chal­lenge, what it means to live and retain com­pa­ny val­ues, the dan­gers of call­ing employ­ees ​“fam­i­ly,” and the finan­cial pres­sures of retain­ing your best talent.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.

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