Pros and Cons of Moving to a Four-Day Workweek

(This is an example article)

For many years, a five-day workweek has been the norm, but recently there has been a lot of noise about moving to a four-day workweek. The goal is to reduce the working week to four days, but maintain the same level of productivity and output. This can work because the four-day workweek may lead to higher employee satisfaction and reduced stress, resulting in increased productivity. Opponents, of course, claim that it will decrease output, increase costs, and make for scheduling challenges if your business requires 24/7 coverage.

So, let’s explore the pros and cons of a four-day workweek and discuss how it might impact businesses and employees. Balancing improving work life balance with managing costs and maintaining customer service levels are amongst the challenges that might be faced and the factors to consider. What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this approach?

Benefits of a Four-Day Workweek

Reduced Burnout

Employee burnout is a major problem for many companies. Burnout leads to increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming into work despite being sick or otherwise not at full capacity) and ultimately to turnover when burned out employees finally give up and quit.

Shortening the work week reduces burnout and lowers levels of stress. This can reduce costs related to absenteeism and turnover and dramatically reduce presenteeism.

Increased Productivity

It might seem a paradox that reducing the amount spent at work increases productivity. In a standard 8-hour day, the average office worker is only productive for about three hours. The rest of the time is spent being distracted by the internet, chatting with coworkers, taking smoke or coffee/tea breaks, contacting partners or friends, eating snacks, making medical appointments and other calls that have to be handled during “working hours” and, of course, looking for a better job. And, of course, some of it is spent on meetings that could be emails.

Shortening the working week allows people to handle errands on their day off, gives them more time to talk to partners and friends, and means they actually spend more time actually working.

It also means they are less tired, which further increases productivity. Employees who are overworked are actually even less productive. Staying late and coming in early are performative; they make you look good, but you are getting less work done.

Increased Diversity

In 2018, before the pandemic, 2 million British people were not working because of childcare responsibilities. 89% of them were women. School closures during the pandemic forced even more parents, especially mothers, out of the workplace. A four-day workweek can help them have more time to handle their family responsibilities, and flexible scheduling would allow parents to choose shifts that overlap less. When fathers have a four-day workweek, they spend more time helping with childcare and household chores.

A four-day workweek also supports disabled employees, who need to take less time off for frequent doctors’ appointments and are likely to be less fatigued and thus more productive.

Increasing diversity helps you find higher quality talent for your business.

Improved Engagement

Employees who are less tired and burned out are also likely to be more engaged in their job. They are more likely to be proactive and come up with good ideas. Because they have more time to rest and recover, and do hobbies, they are better off mentally.

Engagement also leads to productivity as well as to better morale and a less toxic office environment.

Improved Sustainability

For employees that have to be in an office, reducing the number of commutes from ten to eight obviously reduces that employee’s personal carbon footprint. This also means there are fewer people on the roads, reducing traffic, which improves the environment for everything.

If you can close your office for three days rather than two, that can also save significant amounts of carbon. Utah did a trial of a four-day week for government employees back in 2007. The state saved $1.8 million in energy costs by closing offices on Friday. They also maintained customer service by extending hours on Monday through Thursday, making life easier for everyone. An interim report projected that this would remove at least 12,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, if they counted commutes.

Even if you have to keep your business open seven days a week, reducing the number of times each employee has to commute still helps reduce emissions.

Lower Costs for Employees

Dropping to a four-day workweek without reduction in pay actually amounts to a small real terms pay raise for employees. Not having to commute as often means less gas and also less wear and tear on a vehicle. Alternatively, it means less money spent on public transportation.

Even more significant, employees can spend less money on child care. Child care costs can be significant. Some families may also save money by only having to hire a pet sitter four days a week, not buying as many restaurant lunches, and engaging in healthy habits that reduce healthcare costs.

Disadvantages of a Four-Day Workweek

Not everyone agrees that a four-day workweek is a good idea, of course. Here are some disadvantages:

Potential Longer Hours on the Days You Do Work

For some employees, the four-day workweek is a net reduction in hours. For others it may mean a longer shift on the days they do work, especially if they are in customer-facing positions. This can be a challenge for some employees, who may find it much harder to sustain a ten-hour shift than an eight-hour one. A compressed work week can result in decreased productivity and happiness.

Reduced Customer Satisfaction

Despite all of the benefits, Utah had to go back to a five-day week because of large amounts of taxpayer complaints. This can be partially mitigated by using technology, or by doing overlapping work weeks. A four-day workweek could also potentially slow customer responses, and some workers may start answering queries on their day off, removing the advantages.

But for some companies, going to a four-day work week might mean a slight increase in staff (and thus costs) to maintain the same level of customer service, which may not be feasible.

Higher Costs

Moving to a four-day workweek can result in having to hire more staff, and thus higher costs. If you still need to cover the same number of hours, for example in healthcare, then you have to bring on more staff.

This can also cause other issues, such as increasing the number of handoffs.

Another issue is that there is a perception that a four-day workweek will inevitably result in reduced productivity and higher costs, particularly in working cultures where long hours are seen as a demonstration of dedication.

Worse Meetings

Ideally, when implementing a four-day workweek you should also address the number of meetings which are happening, and the issues caused by long meetings.

This does not always happen, and when people have different days off (for example, some people might take the option of taking Wednesday off instead of a longer weekend), you can end up with even longer, more boring meetings, that then cause burnout and dissatisfaction.

Scheduling Complexities

Some companies can achieve a four-day workweek simply by closing on Fridays. However, if you need people on duty through the week, then dropping everyone’s number of shifts by one can result in more complicated scheduling. It can be a headache for supervisors and managers to ensure coverage, although this might be mitigated by people taking less time off.

There is also a risk that people may be asked to come in for a fifth day for emergency coverage, and before you know it, you are back to the five-day week.

Finally, it can make it harder to schedule team meetings and that can reduce collaboration, which is important for some projects.

Potential Increased Inequality

There are some people who are lucky to get two days off a week. Many retail and fast food workers only get one. Furthermore, hourly workers can’t afford to reduce their hours (or four-day week movements might be used as an excuse to cut hours), and many are working more than one job.

This means that the gap between the people lucky enough to have weekends and those not increases further, potentially resulting in conflict. This then spreads more inequality. For example, somebody working a reduced four-day week may spend the fifth day taking classes and courses, improving their income further, whilst the person who is still working six or even seven days a week doesn’t have this option.

Overall, the four-day workweek is worth trying for many companies, especially if you are able to close the office one day a week and reduce costs. However, a compressed workweek (four ten-hour shifts) can be worse in terms of burnout and you may incur some extra costs if you have to increase your number of employees.

The movement is growing and it is likely there will be more trials and more data about how well this works and which companies it is likely to work best for. For your company, it’s best to run the numbers and, first of all, discuss with your employees how they feel about it and consider a pilot programme involving your most trusted people.