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
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 24⁄7 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.
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.
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