The 4-day work week
The 4-day work week is growing in popularity. And has become a widespread topic of discussion when it comes to future ways of working and business operation.
You may have seen in the media that many businesses around the globe are beginning to test the 4-day work week. In Australia, for example, Oxfam and Bunnings have announced they’re going to trial this concept. With some businesses even moving permanently to a reduced working week.
What is the idea behind the 4-day work week?
The idea advocates for employees to essentially work one day less a week. It’s a reduction from the traditional 40 hours a week to 32 hours, but for the same pay and benefits. This makes it different to part-time, condensed work week, cost-saving or flexible working arrangements.
Andrew Barnes, the founder of 4 Day Week Global, uses the 100-80-100TM principle to explain the concept. People receive 100% pay for 80% of hours worked, with 100% productivity targets achieved.
Countries exploring the 4-day work week
Many countries are already exploring or facilitating 4-day work weeks. Below, we list a few examples.
In 2015, the Icelandic government began a pilot program which included over 2,500 employees from a variety of industries. The program found productivity remained the same. And in some cases even improved.
Now, 90% of Iceland’s population enjoy reduced hours or other work modifications.
In 2022, the Belgian government passed a law that gave people the right to work four days a week, without impacting their salary.
In 2022, 61 companies and more than 3,300 employees signed up for a six-month trial to explore the 4-day work week. Following the trial, 92% of the companies who participated decided to keep the reduced week policy.
In 2022, the Spanish government announced that it would be piloting a 4-day work week for public sector employees. The pilot program will last for one year and will involve over 6,000 employees.
The goal is to test the effects of a 4-day work week on productivity, employee wellbeing, and environmental impact.
In 2021, the Japanese government published new annual economic policy guidelines. These recommended that businesses allow their employees to opt for a 4-day work week.
Other countries, including Scotland, Wales, Canada, and parts of the United States of America also plan to trial the concept.
The benefits of a 4-day work week
Many of these international trials uncovered numerous benefits for both businesses and employees. We discuss some of these below.
Help increase productivity
Some of the trials found a shorter week had a big impact on productivity. People prioritised work, and were more focused, efficient, and motivated.
- A study by Microsoft Japan found that productivity increased by 40%.
- Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand insurance company, found productivity increased by 20%.
- A study by the University of Oxford found productivity increased by 13%.
Help improve work-life balance
Condensing time spent at work from five days to four days, gives individuals more time for rest, personal activities and leisure. The trials show how this has a positive impact on mental health and overall wellbeing.
In Australasia, two-thirds of participants in a program run by 4-Day Work Week Global reported less burnout. And nearly 40% felt less stressed. The trial also showed potential benefits for gender equality, as parents shared childcare and housework more equally.
The 4-day work week is not your only option to conquer work-life balance. Learn more about offering your people greater flexibility with hybrid working:
Help improve talent recruitment and retention
A 4-day work week can be an incredibly attractive perk for potential employees.
It demonstrates that the business values work-life balance and the wellbeing of its people. Employees who have better work-life balance and feel valued by their employer are more likely to stay with the company long-term. In the United Kingdom trial, 57% fewer staff left participating firms compared with the same period a year earlier.
Help reduce business costs
Business owners can benefit from a 4-day work week by saving on running costs, such as energy bills. Fewer work days means less energy is used in offices or workplaces. For example, Microsoft Japan found it was using less electricity during its trial of a 4-day work week.
The challenges of moving to a 4-day work week
We’ve discussed some of the positive benefits that came out of the trials. Now, let’s explore some of the limitations and challenges. For one, the businesses volunteered to take part in the trials. This means they were probably already open to and familiar with the concept. They were also mostly office-based businesses rather than, say, manufacturers.
A big limitation of the 4-day work week is that it doesn’t suit all job roles or industries. For example, if your business needs on-call staff, retail teams, hospitality workers or contact centre teams – this option wouldn’t be viable.
Before you consider a 4-day work week, you’ll need to weigh-up several factors that could impact your business operations.
Assess how a 4-day work week will affect your daily operations. Can your essential business functions still run effectively within a reduced week? Can you still meet your customers' expectations of service?
How would the switch impact your staffing levels and workload distribution? It's important to determine if your team can handle the workload that comes with a shorter week. If not, you'd have to hire more people.
You may also have to spend time establishing new policies. These will have to accommodate people’s different preferences while ensuring all the work gets done. For example, if you provide flexibility in which day is not worked, you may need to arrange rosters or schedules to ensure people know who is working, and when.
We’ve seen how some organisations reported cost savings from using less energy. However, it’s worthwhile doing a thorough cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the change is financially viable in the long-term.
Change management impact
Successfully transitioning to a 4-day work week requires effective change management and communication.
You’ll want to help your staff understand the reasons for the change, its benefits, and how you’ll go about it. Transparent communication is important to create a shared understanding of the new way of working.
There are a host of legal and compliance factors too. Before you consider trialling the 4-day work week we suggest seeking professional advice. As this business operation could impact employment contracts, labour laws, and any collective agreements. It’s important to understand how the new terms will comply with employment regulations.
There’s no denying the 4-day work week is growing in popularity in many countries. But deciding whether it’s right for your business, is something only you can answer after careful analysis and consultation.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.
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