What is the buzz about the 4-day workweek? The Bees have spoken!
The idea of embracing a 4-day workweek is intriguing, of course. And considering the success rate of countries in their pilot programs, the 100-80-100 model seems a feasible option for many. Just as we talk about the reduced hours but equal input and at least 100 percent productivity, some are skeptics and believe the 4-day workweek model cannot function in all sectors and is, in fact, doomed to fail in the long run. Ouch!
But let’s not jump to conclusions yet. Several studies, especially by New Zealand-based nonprofit organization 4 Day Week Global, suggest that 63 percent of businesses found it easier to draw and retain talent using the 4-day week work model.
While around 78 percent of employees felt happier and less stressed out compared to those who work five days a week or more, the revenues of participating companies increased by 37.55 percent compared to the previous year. Now that’s what we wanted to hear!
The concept of fewer working hours is not new! Iceland and Sweden conducted pilot studies in 2015. However, back then, not many were willing to take the risk. Therefore, the results were somewhat mixed. Companies were afraid that fewer hours would affect the performance of their employees and even feared losing revenue.
What’s the 4-day workweek model?
A 4-day week implies reducing a standard 40 working hours to 32 hours without compromising the pay or the company benefits. Wait, what?
While squeezing five days of work into four days may not seem that appealing, the three-day weekend sure does. Research has shown that most of the participants of pilot programs do not want to switch back to five days of work and are better able to handle work-life balance.
Whether you have heard about the 4-day workweek pilot programs in bits and pieces or in detail, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the model is complex.
Before we get to that, let’s first find out how pilot programs in various countries worked.
The UK’s massive pilot program:
In the U.K., 70 organizations signed up for a six-month 4-day workweek pilot program, which kicked off at the beginning of June and has now ended. The final results will be out in January 2023. But even before the results are out, the country has hailed the program as "extremely successful."
The 4 Day Week Global ran a six-month pilot program with thinktank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers at Boston College and Cambridge University. Some 3,300 employees received their dues for a weekly day off throughout the trial.
- While 88 percent stated that the 4-day week is working “well” for their firms, 34 percent said their business productivity has “improved slightly”. Around 15 percent reported it has “improved significantly”.
- A whopping 86 percent stated that they are "extremely likely," or "likely" to permanently shift to a 4-day workweek after the trials are over.
Ireland calls its pilot program a ‘resonating success’:
Twelve companies participated in the Four Day Week Ireland campaign, with University College Dublin and Boston College analyzing the financial, social, and environmental impact.
All the 12 companies voiced their intention to continue the four-day week, with nine committing to it immediately.
Researchers say there were "significant improvements" in employee wellbeing metrics, such as stress, burnout and fatigue. Employees could now sleep 40 minutes more, from 7.02 hours a night to 7.72 hours on average.
Belgium's 4-day workweek bill came into force in November:
Belgium for long has been working to reduce work hours. Following various pilot studies initiated at the beginning of the year, it has finally brought the 4-day workweek bill into force. People can now choose to work either for four days a week or more with the introduction of the bill.
But this does not imply fewer hours. Belgian workers who opt to work four days a week will have to work the same amount of hours they would in five days. That would mean an employee will have to squeeze in nine-and-a-half hours each day to compensate for a day off. Phew! Only time will tell how that'll work out for Belgian employees.
Let’s get to the pros of a 4-day workweek:
The pandemic has brought forward many first-time scenarios that we might not have imagined otherwise. Hybrid working, remote working, and flexible hours, which were once a topic for discussion and up for experimentation, today have become the modern world's reality. The post-COVID-era is now expanding the possibility of a 4-day workweek to a greater horizon.
#1 Positive effects on employee wellbeing:
The reduced working week has shown a significant effect concerning employee wellbeing, improved mental health, low turnover, job satisfaction, and increased productivity.
According to an article by Fast Company, employees’ sense of engagement soared as job stress declined from 45 percent to 38 percent. Their commitment and loyalty to the company also rose from 68 percent to 88 percent. Wow!
#2 Promotes gender equality at the workplace:
In the U.K., women constitute 84 percent of the 1.75 million people who had to quit their jobs to look after their families. A 4-day work week will help reduce the gender gap at work, as women will not necessarily have to leave their professions.
With reduced office hours and a three-day weekend, women can take care of their family responsibilities simultaneously without fearing losing their jobs.
#3 Employees feel happy at large and engage well:
Whether it is the latest trial by the U.K. or the shorter workweek trial for nurses in Sweden, the results showed positive. The country asked its nurses to work 6 hours a day for five days between 2015 and 2017. Nurses reported better physical and mental health and engaged 85 percent more in activities for patients in their care.
If we look at the statistics, two-thirds of Americans already want to embrace the 4-day work week and are even ready to work extra if they have to, Ipsos says. Half of all workers even believe people would be more productive if they had a three-day weekend. Around 57 percent of Gen Z employees and 56 percent of Millennials believe the same.
#4 Not only healthy for employee wellbeing but also the environment:
We are facing the threat of climate change triggered by global warming, and a 4-day workweek seems to be a healthy solution. We will enormously be able to overcome the problems of energy savings, traffic disruptions, commuting hours, and carbon footprint, if not entirely but to quite an extent.
In a feature published by Scientific American, an experiment in Utah was an eye-opener. The Utah government altered the workdays of over 17,000 of its employees last August. There was no need to turn on the office lights or for janitors to do the cleaning on Fridays. Therefore, electric bills dropped and dwindled even further during the summer. The trial was surprisingly a hit, as the state had saved $1.8 million as of May.
#5 Worries about low productivity in case of fewer working days relieved:
Microsoft found a 40 percent boost in productivity during their trial of implementing a 4-day work week, the company announced in its "Work-Life Choice Challenge" report.
Atom Bank in the U.K. kicked off a four-day, 32-hour work week. It saw a 500 percent increase in applications for job vacancies. Furthermore, in August 2022, the bank's productivity increased to a whopping 92 percent.
Environmental consultancy firm Tyler Grange adopted the 100-80-100 principle. Though it took some innovating to find new ways of working, the level of happiness among employees increased, said Simon Ursell, its managing director. A three-day weekend reduced fatigue, and as for productivity, the company is at 101 percent. Kudos to that!
But, as we see in any societal change, where there are pros, there are cons as well.
Here are the top three disadvantages of implementing a 4-day workweek:
#1 Lower customer satisfaction:
While the Utah government saw fantastic environmental benefits with a 4-day workweek, people complained of poor customer services as government services became inaccessible due to offices on Fridays.
AI has replaced much of human work with chatbots. It is a viable option on days when employees cannot cater to their customers, and a chatbot responds instead. But how fruitful that will be is still a question.
#2 Possible risk to employee wellbeing:
The idea behind a 4-day workweek might seem tempting but does squeezing 10 hours a day to get an extra day off seems so? Absenteeism, low job satisfaction, stress, and workload might increase.
The New Zealand four-day workweek trial is a perfect example of this. Reducing working days was not necessarily beneficial in enhancing employee wellbeing, as people struggled to cover their responsibilities.
The much-hyped success of Microsoft Japan’s four-day workweek revolved around how productivity shot upward substantially during the study period. Employers, however, may need to be careful about promoting outputs over wellbeing if they really aim to invest in their workforce’s work-life balance.
#3 The 4-day workweek principle is prone to possible wrong approaches:
Expecting employees to squeeze five days of working hours into four days might add to the troubles rather than eliminate them.
It is likely to lead to low productivity levels as employees could feel fatigued and stressed, which can compromise performance and employee wellbeing.
It can impact employees’ engagement at work and shake their work-life balance and overall happiness.
Some companies are finding ways to squeeze in 35 hours in four days a week, and some 40. It is how a company approaches the principle, which leaves room for a lot of experimentation.
A balanced approach will work wonders, where employees don't have to overwork and employers achieve productivity.