The modern workweek can largely be attributed to Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Companies. In the 1920s, he reduced the workweek for employees to 40 hours over five days, with Saturdays and Sundays later being established as the weekend. Since then, companies across the globe have adopted this model, and it has been the norm for the last century.
Recently, companies have started experimenting with alternative options for the workweek. One of the most discussed options is changing the workweek from the traditional five days to four. This model has been gaining steam as employees demand more flexible work.
Ten years ago, it was unheard of to entertain the idea of a four-day workweek. However, the pandemic has caused endless changes in countless areas, and the workplace is one of them. As we enter the pandemic’s third year, the job market has swung in favor of job seekers as there are more job openings than people to fill them. For context, in September 2021, there were 10.4 million job openings in the U.S., but only 7.6 unemployed workers. Since job seekers have the upper hand, they can demand more from their employers, including more flexible working conditions, , and higher salaries. This comes in the form of remote and hybrid work options, selecting alternative hours, and increasingly the four-day workweek.
There are benefits and drawbacks to adopting a four-day workweek which are outlined below.
One of the most critical aspects of the four-day workweek to employers and employees is that productivity reportedly remains the same or increases. You may be asking yourself how that’s possible. There are a few reasons. One of which is that some companies still have employees perform a 40-hour workweek, but it’s spread over four days instead of five. However, some companies knock the hours down to 32 hours for the four-day workweek. The decrease in working hours encourages employees to remain highly focused on their work. There is less time to take lunch breaks, scroll on social media, and chitchat with coworkers. If employees want to finish their tasks promptly, they need to work diligently.
In this day in age, employees crave work-life balance. They want to disconnect, recharge, travel, spend quality time with friends and family, pursue other ventures, and more. They do not want to feel like they are working the majority of their life. The four-day workweek offers this to employees. In return, employees become happier and more satisfied with their jobs.
As it becomes increasingly difficult for employers to source and , offering a four-day workweek is one method to entice job candidates. It is a great selling point and way to attract potential applicants and candidates. Not only is it seen as a perk to candidates, but it also highlights that the company is progressive and listens to employees. Furthermore, it is a great strategy to retain current employees.
There is also the factor of reduced overhead costs. If employees spend less time in the office, this equates to cheaper bills for heating and air conditioning, electricity, water, trash, coffee, and snacks, etc. These savings can be pocketed by the company, reinvested in other areas of the business to help it grow, make improvements to areas that need updating, pay employee salaries, along with a myriad of alternative options.
The four-day workweek cuts down on employees commuting to the office, which benefits the environment. Cutting out one day of work equates to a 20% reduction in emissions per year for commuters and saves employees money on fees such as gas, car maintenance repairs, and train and bus tickets. Additionally, the stress of commuting can take a toll on employees’ well-being due to rush hour traffic and getting to the office at a particular time.
As tempting as the four-day workweek is, not every company will benefit from the forward-thinking concept. Some companies need to be open more days and hours to fulfill the needs of their business and customers. Some examples include customer service jobs such as restaurant and retail employees and public transportation workers. The four-day workweek will only work on a case-by-case basis.
Some companies that adopt the four-day workweek cut weekly hours from 40 to 32. This is great for employees because it’s less time they are required to work; however, it may become more challenging to achieve the same work output they did at 40 hours, as they do in 32. Granted, employees may become more focused with the condensed timeframe, but there is also the potential of added pressure and stress to complete tasks on time.
Lastly, there is a chance that companies that adopt the four-day workweek may discover it does not work for them. This experiment could result in a significant financial loss when transitioning to the four-day workweek and switching back to a five-day workweek. Furthermore, if the company discovers a loss in productivity when shifting to the four-day workweek, they also have to factor that into the equation.
One company received national attention this month when it instated a company-wide four-day workweek. The company, named Bolt, is a tech company based out of San Francisco. They ran a trial period in Fall 2021 testing out the four-day workweek and garnered positive results:
Other points to note are that they are not decreasing staff salaries and are not cramming 40-hour workweeks into four days. As a result of instating the shorter workweek, they have received an influx of applications, a rare feat in such a competitive job market.
The online children’s retailer started giving its employees Fridays off starting in May 2020, with the practice becoming a permanent fixture by December 2020. Employees at the retailer are being paid the same as when they worked five days per week, and they do not have to make up the eight working hours lost. According to Primary’s Chief Experience Officer, one of the main reasons the four-day workweek was implemented indefinitely is because employees return to work feeling recharged on Mondays. In addition, the rate at which people leave the company has fallen since implementing the change, even as the rate of people quitting their jobs continues to rise around the country.
Thirty companies in the UK have opted into a six-month trial for the four-day workweek. Like Bolt, employees at participating companies will not be expected to work more than 32 hours weekly and will not receive a pay cut. Trials like this have already been conducted in Spain, New Zealand, and Iceland.
The four-day workweek is an innovative concept that is increasingly gaining traction. Companies across the globe have started experimenting with the idea in hopes that it will increase productivity, improve employee satisfaction, help attract talent, and more. While it is not for every business and industry, companies may want to consider adopting the model if it is a viable option.
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