Can a 4 Day Workweek Boost Productivity?

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A flexible working schedule is the future. Can the 4-day work week help keep your workers more productive?
July 20, 2022
Future of Work

We're in a new era, one that's oriented towards flexibility and new ways of working.
Productivity concerns are one of the greatest challenges as executives deal with the new reality of hybrid work, and increased burnout rates. Considering the advantages and disadvantages, will a 4-Day Working Week solve the issue? Or will productivity go down?

The world of work looks different after the pandemic and the future of work requires a new employer-employee contract. We are moving towards a more flexible working future. Recruiting talent requires companies to put people first, considering issues like burnout and wellbeing. As a result, providing employees with the flexibility they need can no longer just be about offering remote work. The company of the future will need to implement and incorporate new ways of working. A shorter workweek could be the answer to employee wellbeing and hiring and retaining new talent. But how will a 4-day working week affect productivity?

The Case for 4-Day Workweeks and Productivity

The company of the future

During the pandemic, companies experienced solid productivity increases. After the pandemic, many companies plan to transition to a hybrid virtual model that combines remote work with office hours. There are many possibilities in alternative work schedules, like part-time, flextime, compressed workweeks, and telecommuting.

According to a McKinsey analysis, approximately 20 per cent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could in an office. Those numbers would translate into three to four times more people working from home than before the pandemic, with a significant impact for urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among others.

What is a four-day workweek?

Four-day workweeks are exactly what they sound like. Employees work four days a week and paid for five. We should note, however, that the four-day work week can take different forms, such as four days of work with 80 per cent pay, or even compressed 10-hour working days to compensate for the extra day. For example, Belgian employees won the right to work four days instead of five without losing their pay by condensing their working hours into fewer days .

Pros and cons of a shorter workweek

With a renewed focus on work-life balance that positively impacts employee productivity and happiness, the idea of a shorter workweek is gaining traction. People who work a four-day week generally report that they’re healthier, happier, and less crunched for time; their employers report that they’re more efficient and more focused.

A McKinsey report reveals that nearly half of employees surveyed say they’re feeling some symptoms of being burned out at work. And shorter workweeks can benefit more than just the employee. Businesses can benefit from reduced stress, increased efficiency, and more engaged employees. And we now have proof from companies that tried the short week model that a four-day work week can be just as productive as a five-day one.

In favour of the four-day week, advocates suggest that worker satisfaction increases when it is implemented, as does productivity. Working four days, relaxing three. Most employees would probably love the idea and 83% of all American workers would prefer a four-day workweek according to a 2021 GoodHire survey. Millennials are most in favour (90%), while Gen Z is least interested (76%).

But does that mean that less work will get done?

Companies with a 4-day workweek: Does productivity increase?

Let’s look at productivity in the 4-day work week by examining the results of other experiments.

Increasingly, private and public organisations are experimenting with the four-day workweek to give employees more personal time without negatively affecting the normal functioning of the company.

There are some companies that experiment with shorter working weeks, like recently PricewaterhouseCoopers, while others already successfully implement a short workweek.

  • Buffer’s results with the 4-day workweek: Initially a month-long experiment, it has now become a permanent policy, and at the end of 2021, a survey showed that 91% of employees were happier and more productive with a four-day week. It required a big shift in mindset, starting with senior leaders, reveals Hailley Griffis, Buffer’s head of public relations. “Going into projects knowing we have four days instead of five, you get used to it.”
  • French company LDLC is one of many firms around the world trialling a four-day week. After the trial year, the company selling consumer technology has increased its annual turnover by 40% without hiring any extra staff. "Some people took me for a crazy person,” says CEO Laurent de la Clergerie. In his view, the secret to his firm's success is the feeling of trust and appreciation among the employees, which makes them more productive. "At the end of the day, it's brought only good things for the team," de la Clergerie confirms.
  • During Microsoft's shorter workweek experiment, the Japan office closed every Friday in August 2019, resulting in greater productivity than a year ago. The four-day work week led to a 40% boost in productivity, the company announced as part of the results of its “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer” project.
  • During the pandemic, Diamondback Covers, a Pennsylvania-based metal truck-bed cover manufacturer, shortened the factory team's 40-hour week by five hours, but did not decrease wages as it hired more workers to meet rising demand. The company expected that a 12.5 per cent reduction in working hours would lead to a similar rise in labour costs. Due to increased efficiency, however, cost increased only by 3 percent.
  • Another interesting example is Iceland’s expansive trials to include nine-to-five workers from a wide range of workplaces, provides clear evidence for the efficacy of working time reduction. Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across most of trial workplaces, from offices to playschools, social service providers and hospitals.In total, roughly 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours.

And then there are companies, such as Shake Shack, that tried a compressed 10-hour workday for a while, but then decided to pause the and instead invest in other priorities, such as more career opportunities or higher wages.

There are drawbacks. While many companies are moving toward a short workweek, including multinationals like Panasonic, publishing companies like Target Publishing, and art companies like JAYU, there remain many industries and employers that are debating whether the change will affect their productivity. 

Some industries might lose more than they gain from a four-day week. Workers may find it exhausting to work a 10-hour shift four days in a row. Even for the reward of having a three-day weekend, that's a lot of work. A shorter workweek could reduce productivity, decrease employee morale, and create a general disconnect between employees and their workplaces(e.g. impact on teamwork).

Companies will have to figure out new ways to retain and attract talent and more efficient ways of working, while keeping productivity high. A shorter workweek might be the way to go, but it will require careful operational planning for it to be a success.