Is it necessary to work five days a week? A lot of people believe it is. But how often do we stop and ask ourselves why we believe this?
The five-day workweek was standardized when Henry Ford decided that his employees should have full weekends off. In 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act codified this new practice into the law.
But that’s just a maximum. A recommended standard approach.
It’s not necessarily the best.
For example, when Microsoft Japan moved to a four-day workweek, they found that productivity rose 40% and electricity costs went down by 23%.
A New Zealand trust management company tried it out and noticed similar results. Productivity improved by 20% and stress levels went down by 27%.
Hardly seems like a coincidence. So why should you consider a four-day workweek, and is it even possible, given your current schedule? What are the strategies you can start employing today that will rearrange your life, create better work-life balance, all without costing you the productivity that motivates you to get into the office in the first place?
Comparing the Four-Day Workweek vs. a “Compressed” Schedule
When referring to the four-day workweek, most people mean a 32-hour week. But some people believe in longer days during those four days of work, adding up to 40 hours. This is known as a “compressed” schedule.
What’s the difference? Eight hours, for one. But since the compressed schedule might appeal to workaholics who believe they have to be at the office for the business to achieve anything worthwhile, it’s a good idea to go through the two ideas and compare them.
- Less time on the compressed schedule? Working 10-hour days with the goal of earning an extra day off isn’t unusual. Many medical professionals, for example, work very long shifts in exchange for more days off. But is the three-day weekend really worth the added number of hours throughout the week? This is a decision only you can make. Many people want to move to the 4-day workweek because they want better work-life balance, not because they want less time on the days they do work.
- Schedule flexibility. A four-day workweek of 32 hours is more convenient than the 40-hour schedule. For example, most daycare arrangements are constructed off of the assumption that a parent is working a standard 40-hour workweek. Longer hours during the week can make it difficult to arrange child care.
- Employee recruitment. When Shake Shack moved to a four-day workweek, they found that recruitment spiked. But switching to ten-hour days might not have the same effect. A four-day workweek is a great way to incentivize new hiring and bring in new talent, but not if people feel that they have to sacrifice more of their life during the four days.
The Benefits of the Four-Day Workweek
Besides the obvious (a three-day weekend), what are the benefits of a four-day workweek that make the idea sound so appealing? You’d be surprised at how tangible these benefits can be, especially since four-day workweeks have already been studied. Here’s what shows up in the benefits:
- Stress levels. One of the most obvious benefits of switching to a four-day workweek is the effect on stress levels. The New Zealand company mentioned above—potentially a high-stress atmosphere—saw its stress levels reduced by over a quarter.
- Better work-life balance. In that same New Zealand study, researchers saw a “45% increase in work-life balance,” according to OWLLabs. It might be hard to quantify, but the effects are clear: giving people more time to take care of themselves away from work also helps them become more productive when they’re at work.
- Efficiency. Reducing the number of days people have to get work done forces greater efficiency. And since people are better-rested and have better work-life balance, that new efficiency becomes the new norm. Says OWLLabs: “Decreased electricity usage, fewer meetings held, and fewer pages printed helped contribute. [Microsoft Japan] says this all resulted in a 40% productivity boost across the business.”
Then there are the intangible benefits: who doesn’t want the three-day weekend, the extra day, and the associated intangible benefits that come with reduced stress levels?
When you realize that the five-day workweek is an arbitrary standard, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for getting work done in a better way.
The Potential Downside of Working Four-Day Workweeks
To be honest, some people consider the four-day workweek a terrible idea.
And we wouldn’t say that taking a day off every single week (when compared to the standard model of working, at least) is without its downsides. Consider:
- Child care. We mentioned this earlier: when the entire world is on the standard five-day workweek schedule, it can sometimes make for inconvenient scheduling conflicts, especially in arranging for child care. With so many daycare facilities working off of the assumption of a nine-to-five, five-day week schedule, it’s fair to say that you may need more individual, customized planning if you do end up working four day weeks.
- Productivity can drop with the compressed schedule. 10 hour days can be taxing. The Balance Careers notes that there may be associated productivity drops if you move to a four-day workweek while increasing the hours per day.
- Business drawbacks. Let’s say you work in a field in which you’re expected to be available five days per week. If you were to suddenly drop off one day per week while your competition remains available those five days, you may notice that you’ve given the competition an edge. There could be real-life business drawbacks to switching modes, especially if you don’t have a plan in place for getting work done when you’re not in the office.
- It’s not realistic for many jobs. When children go to school five days per week, there’s no “four-day workweek” available for the bus driver. Not without hiring additional help. Some companies may find that to make up for the four-day workweek, it requires an expansion in payroll, which means that it can be more expensive than simply working the standard workweek.
Obviously, these drawbacks may vary from business to business. Your business may be highly conducive to a reduction in workdays without cutting back hours. For other people, they don’t produce income if they don’t put time in the office.
How to Achieve a Three-Day Weekend the Right Way
For anyone trying to picture how a four-day week might change their life, it’s better to imagine how it might look by how you can achieve more productivity during the four days you’re at work. How can you maximize efficiency and make sure that by the time that Friday rolls around, you have enough flexibility for the three-day weekend?
- Schedule work for great productivity and emphasize high-priority items. One great productivity tip: schedule your most essential work first. This means that even if you don’t get to your entire to-do list for the day, those tasks you leave unfinished were the lowest of your priorities.
- Use a virtual assistant to boost productivity. A virtual assistant from Delegated, for example, can even handle the phones while you’re out, giving your business the appearance of still being at a five-day workweek. And the truth is, if you have a VA fill in for you, your business technically is. You’re just not there for all five days.
- Learn more about the four-day week and how it can be achieved. For example, here’s a TEDx Talk addressing the benefits and the methods of achieving a four-day week. When you learn the benefits and make the four-day week a priority, you’ll often find that it doesn’t require bending over backward to make it happen. Remember: a four-day workweek is just a different way of working. You don’t necessarily have to compare it to a five-day workweek, which is just as arbitrary.
With a shorter workweek—assuming you’re not going to a “compressed” schedule—you’ll have to do more in your 32 hours on a per-hour basis. With less time to work with, however, you might notice those areas that produce more results for less work. The more you can work on efficiency, the more you can create weekly work habits that benefit you.
More Research that Addresses the Benefits of Working Less
What are the benefits of working less? It starts with stress reduction, as you’ve seen. But let’s dive deeper into the analysis conducted by companies like Microsoft, Shake Shack, and the New Zealand companies that have tried this.
One study found that workers were happier when they shifted to a four-day workweek. And the increase in productivity saw that even though these workers moved from working 40 hours a week to 32, it was more than worth the shift.
Team engagement was another factor to increase—an average of 20%, according to a study. This included reforms around the office, like limiting meetings to 30 minutes to make sure that time was better managed. Another factor: companies were more proactive about allowing employees to point out distractions that got in the way.
There’s more. “A separate survey of 1,500 workers and 600 human resources managers by HR consulting firm Robert Half found that about two in three workers (66%) said they wanted to work less than five days a week.” This shouldn’t be surprising. Who wouldn’t want to work less? But the important thing for employers to take away from this is that having a policy of a 4-day workweek in place—allowing employees to work fewer hours—can be a great way to hire talent. Hiring the best talent means putting together the best possible package of employment benefits. But it’s hard to beat a four-day workweek, even if another company is offering a talented employee other benefits. Who doesn’t want a three-day weekend every week?
The benefits of working less can work on the individual level, to be sure. But once companies dig deeper, they may find more substantial reasons for why a four-day workweek might make sense.
What Happens When Companies Switch to a Shorter Workweek?
Let’s talk about what actually happens when individual companies embrace the shorter workweek.
According to Talent Quarterly, one company in Germany adopted a 5-hour workday, five days per week. The emphasis was on eliminating time-wasting. The company made sure to ban meetings longer than 15 minutes, for example.
In New Zealand, Perpetual Garden financial services made the changes permanent after trying out the shortened workweek. We’ve cited the positive impact on stress levels and overall employee satisfaction. These benefits extended to how well the employees performed at work.
A noteworthy thing to happen in the New Zealand experiment? Not only did the company make it permanent, but it allowed employees to choose their own days off. That meant that employees feel more empowered. They can also go about creating the work-life balance that works best for them, since the experience is customized. If taking Mondays off works better for them with their spouse’s schedule, for example, that additional freedom only benefits the employee’s life and makes them less stressed, happier, and more productive.
Shake Shack realized the potential of using less time at work to bring on board better talent. Their goal was to hire talented managers with this benefit. That meant competing with companies like Taco Bell, which rolled out high employee salaries. In Shake Shack’s case, hiring talent doesn’t always have to mean increasing the budget for salaries. It can mean using creative ways to attract talent that benefits them and still means a good deal of productivity for the business.
Has COVID Impacted How We Think of Shorter Workweeks?
In the age of COVID, one thing is clear: a lot of people are perfectly content rethinking the traditional office environment. Not only has a lot of work shifted to a remote basis, but people are rethinking the way offices and workweeks factor into company strategy.
The Washington Post asked if the COVID-19 pandemic might change the conversation about a shorter workweek. And as countries transition back to open economies, it’s possible that a “staggered” approach to work will be used. This means that fewer employees will overlap with each other, enhancing social distancing. And as some companies use shorter workweeks to accomplish this, that means that they’ll be exposed to the idea—and it might just become a permanent change.
As American Express noted, this can depend on the industry of each company: “If you're in an industry where the workflow needs to continue, like running a factory, every hour of downtime is an hour when you're aren't manufacturing product.” This doesn’t have to be limited to manufacturing, however. For a Software-as-a-Service company, you’ll often be expected to have 24/7 contact with customers—or at least, every weekday.
However, COVID may have affected our perceptions of how companies respond to our inquiries, as customers. We understand that there may be some limits to what companies can do. But even in the age of COVID, we also understand that companies may be fully remote, or partially remote, which enhances their flexibility. Ultimately, the decision may up to every business when it comes to how they manage who comes in to work, and how, after COVID.
FAQ: How to Achieve the Four-Day Workweek?
Let’s look at some of the most frequently-asked questions:
Does social media use impact the workday?
When you’re thinking about how to get more efficient with your 32 hours than you were with 40, then social media will definitely have an impact. For example, social media use among students is shown to lower grade performance. We can only imagine it’s just as true for people who use social media at work. But whether you choose a four-day week or not, outsourcing social media use to a virtual assistant can be a great way to boost your personal productivity.
Do you have to reduce the number of hours?
If you want to use a “compressed” schedule of working 40 hours per week over four days, then it’s important that you understand what this entails. It comes with side effects during those four days, and can make it more difficult to conduct a proper balance of work and life.
Will the expectations in the United States change?
The United States has been on a five-day workweek for a long time now, but between COVID and mainstream companies like Microsoft experimenting with the four-day workweek, expect some momentum towards the three-day weekend. However, it’s important to note that individual companies may have their own policies for a long time.
What about complex work schedules?
Complex work schedules can lead to some confusion, but you can always work on it by having a virtual assistant come in and fill any gaps. One of the best ways to give your company the kind of flexibility it needs to deal with multiple work schedules is to use a consistent virtual assistant that you outsource. If you want to know more, be sure to sign up with Delegated today.