How can leaders make a new 4-day work week a success?

Organisations are ramping up their employment strategies as employees are asking for more work flexibility. Remote work possibilities and the four-day working week is becoming a priority topic for many companies as they try to figure out the best ways for talent attraction. There are advantages and disadvantages to a four-day working week. How can leaders make it a success and reap the benefits?


“The time has come for four-day week,” say European politicians. Though a four-day working week has long been on the agenda, advances in technology and the pandemic crisis have changed employers' priorities and views on it. Employees want companies to measure results over working hours: 73% of employees say companies should measure performance based on results rather than hours worked, according to our Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era Of Work 2021 survey. Another thing that our research revealed is that workers feel increasingly stressed and burned out. Non-managers say that 67 per cent of their leaders don't check on their mental wellbeing. Is it time to reduce the hours of a working week?


Advantages and Disadvantages of a 4-Day Working Week


From Henry Ford to Microsoft’s four-day working week trial


A century ago, Henry Ford and others suggested that cutting working weeks down from 60-plus hours to 40 could increase productivity.

In the 21st century, rethinking the 9-to-5, Monday to Friday working day has become increasingly popular, with tech companies leading the way. As Google co-founder Larry Page puts it: “‘Two weeks vacation, or a four-day work week?’ Everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.” As fewer workers commute, they consume fewer resources. This is one way to curb climate change, according to some environmentalists. In Microsoft's case, electricity use went down nearly 25% when they experimented with a four-day week.

In addition to its social implications and benefits for society and the environment, reducing working hours can be seen from different perspectives, taking into account the views of both employers and employees.

To promote a proactive approach to navigating the future of employment, the World Economic Forum launched the Preparing for the Future of Work initiative. In the UK, the 4-day week pilot programme is another example of proactively addressing the new work trends. As an illustration of the importance of this initiative for the future of work debate, the pilot is being coordinated by different partners and researchers at Cambridge University and Oxford University, as well as Boston College.

A 2018 study from Reading University highlights positive impacts on family life, mental health, and physical fitness for employees. Employees are reportedly less stressed and happier in organisations implementing a four-day working week.


The four-day working week pilot that took place in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, which involved 2,500 workers, was considered an "overwhelming success". The findings indicated that worker wellbeing improved in areas such as stress and burnout, health and work-life balance.


Other advantages for employers and employees might include:


  • higher productivity
  • greater capacity to innovate
  • increased ability to attract and retain talent
  • raised employee satisfaction
  • reduced absenteeism levels
  • improved employee morale and better team building
  • increased employee wellbeing
  • heightened employee engagement


Nevertheless, for some industries, a four-day working week might have more disadvantages than advantages:


  • decreased employee morale and general disconnect
  • higher costs for employers (for example, overtime costs of longer working or additional staff to support on the fifth day when needed)
  • greater challenge for managers
  • increased amount of work for employees
  • potential client dissatisfaction if they expect a five day per week service


5 Tips for Leaders to Implement a 4-Day Working Week


The four-day working week complicates the jobs of managers. There is more to it than just taking one day off a week – it also involves increasing productivity, improving customer service and meeting personal business goals and objectives, according to Andrew Barnes, founder of the non-profit 4 Day Week Global.

It should be noted that a four-day working week can mean many things: 4 days work with 80% pay, 4 days work with 100% pay, etc. Countries and companies have different strategies in place to address this and choose what is best for their business and workforce. Some companies experiment with yearly trials, while others are already offering four-day working weeks with success. For instance, a Microsoft experiment in Japan to implement a 4-day working week with no loss of pay led to a productivity boost of almost 40%.


Besides setting the main parameters for working hours and expected deliverables, leaders should:


  1. Implement changes slowly or start with a trial period (e.g. set a no-meetings in the office day).
  2. Schedule no calls or communications on the day off.
  3. Do not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach (e.g. create a plan for a 4-day working week on rotation, depending on business and employee needs).
  4. Offer flexibility and allow employees to take responsibility for their workload and schedule.
  5. Use direct communication to build a culture of trust and accountability.




Photo: Pexels

Part of the challenge is the definition of what the four-day week means for a company. Therefore it’s important to have clear guidelines and management processes in place. “I think activity-based leadership will disappear – and it will be replaced by goals and ambitions-related leadership,” says Sigve Brekke, President & CEO at telecommunications company Telenor Group.


In 2020, Unilever in New Zealand came up with plans for a four-day week, and 81 employees were put on a year-long trial. “Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time. We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose,” says Nick Bangs, Managing Director of Unilever New Zealand.


Other companies embracing the 4-week work concept, some as a trial and some permanently, are Buffer, Headspace, Piktochart, Shopify, Kickstarter, Toshiba and Bolt.


Final Takeaways


It's a great time to experiment while we wait to see how it all works out. Why not consider experimenting with a reduced-hours working week at your company for a limited period and see if your team can do more by working fewer hours

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