The four-day workweek has been discussed for years but never fully gained traction as a viable workplace option. After the pandemic, the idea was revisited, and a large-scale research project tested the impact of changing to a four-day workweek and reducing the hours worked accordingly without reducing pay.
The study, sponsored by the non-profit 4DWG (4 Day Week Global), lasted six months with 33 companies participating. The results confirmed many people’s thesis that a shorter week would benefit employees and employers. “We knew the results were going to be good,” says Charlotte Lockhart, co-founder of 4DWG. “The only thing that surprised us is that they were so good.”
According to a Time article, many employees were so enamored with the new arrangement that they would want additional pay to return to a five-day work week. 42% of employees said they’d require a 25% – 50% pay raise to return to a five-day work week. And some said that no amount of money would entice them back to a five-day workweek.
We are all accustomed to the five-day workweek, but few people know it’s less than 100 years old. The two-day weekend we know today was implemented in 1908 by an American mill and didn’t become widely adopted until the Great Depression.
Some companies and countries like Denmark work less than 40 hours each week. But this is the exception to the norm. The article states, “resistance to a more widespread transformation has long been the norm. “I published my first book on this in 1997,” says Boston College economist and sociologist Juliet Schor, who leads the research for 4 Day Week Global, “but back then was unable to find any companies willing to reduce their staff’s workload.” That began to change several years ago when a handful of companies began experimenting. “But nothing like what is happening now,” Schor says. “Now, it’s actually a real thing.””
The work-from-home mandates due to the pandemic demonstrated that productivity gains were possible with changes to the five-day workweek. “The shift to remote work changed the way many employers started to think about scheduling,” says Schor, noting that the CEO of Healthwise, a Boise, Idaho, healthcare company, told her the experience taught him he could trust his employees. And he wasn’t the only one. “I think it was a real revelation to a lot of management that letting people work from home didn’t mean they wouldn’t work,” she says.”
While there is little doubt employees would embrace a four-day work week, from improved job satisfaction to better work-life balance, the exciting aspect of the study is how the extra time off was used. Employees spent more time with family, and many used it to increase the time spent exercising. Interestingly, no one used the time to get a second job or work.
Companies have found that change is a great recruiting benefit when competing for talent. And it doesn’t stop there. Revenues for participating companies rose more than 8% on average, and nearly 38% year over year. Much like working from home during the pandemic, productivity is up with a four-day work week.
One factor tied to the increase is a reduction in meetings. With less time working, companies have had to find ways to be more efficient, and in addition to technology, eliminating meetings has been a top option.
The impact of the pandemic on how we work continues to reverberate. Four-day work weeks were never a serious option until changes in workplace expectations were forced upon us, and new testing options became more palatable. Is this the start of a new normal or just a trend? Time will tell.
If you’re considering moving to a four-day work week and are unsure how it will affect your culture, send us a note.