The 4-Day Workweek: How 3 Diverse Companies Make It Work

The 4-Day Workweek: How 3 Diverse Companies Make It Work

Joe Martin 28/02/2020 4

3,000 employees across 8 nations were polled by the Workforce Institute at Kronos and they found that more than half of full-time workers thought they could do their job in five hours a day if they didn’t have any interruptions.

This small sample points to a growing, global trend of employees and employers sympathizing with the idea of shorter working days, and perhaps, shorter working weeks.

In other words:

Companies are beginning to see the desire (and maybe the need) for a 4-day workweek.

We’ll show you the benefits and drawbacks of a 4-day workweek, examples of companies who have successfully implemented it, and tips on how you can eliminate one working day from the week. 

But first, let’s answer the most obvious question:

‍What Is the 4-Day Workweek?

Before discussions of the 4-day workweek began, American laborers were clamoring for the invention of a 5-day workweek. 

In 1908, a New England mill was the first company to ever shorten the workweek from 6 days to 5.

The reason?

For Jewish workers and managers to observe the Saturday Sabbath. 

In 1926, Henry Ford established the 5-day workweek for his employees, hoping to increase production and the workers’ productivity - popularizing the idea across America. 

Today, a handful of companies are experimenting with 4-day workweeks. 

There are 2 kinds of 4-day workweeks being tested:

“4/10 workweek” that allows employees to only work 4 days, but they have to work 10 hours each day instead of 8. 

And the 32-hour workweek, where employees simply work one less day out of the week without making up the difference in hours. 

At this point, you have to ask yourself:

Who are the companies leading the charge for a shorter workweek? How successful have they been?

‍3 Examples of Companies Successfully Implementing a 4-Day Workweek

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Eliminating an entire day from the workweek can be scary, but for a handful of companies, it’s worth it. 

Microsoft (Japan)

A Microsoft subsidiary in Japan rolled out a program called “Work-Life Choice Challenge” this year, a summer project aimed at boosting the creativity and productivity of employees through flexible working hours. 

The company closed its offices every Friday throughout August.

What they found was labor productivity did increase…

By a surprising 40% compared to August of 2018. 

And Microsoft Japan didn’t just reduce the workweek, they also cut down meeting times to a max of 30 minutes and encouraged remote communication.

Plus, the workweek cut benefited Microsoft’s office resources. Pages printed decreased by 58.7%, while electricity consumption was down by 23.1% compared with August 2018

Overall, this most recent experiment was a big success and is inspiring companies globally to give it a shot. 

‍Perpetual Guardian

One of the most exciting and successful experiments in a 4-day workweek was conducted by New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian. 

Back in 2018, the company, which has 240 employees, conducted an 8-week long trial with a 4-day workweek. They didn’t try to make up the hours by extending the 4 work days. Instead, working hours were reduced to 32 for the week. 

The best part of this experiment?

No one’s pay was cut. 

Every employee received their usual 40-hour a week salary. 

Andrew Barnes, the founder of Perpetual Guardian, said “A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity. If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

Barnes believes that rather than basing contracts on hours spent in the office, negotiations with new hires should revolve around tasks to be performed. 

Jarrod Haar, one of 2 researchers tasked with overseeing the experiment, said that employees reported a 24% improvement in work-life balance. And he said, “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

The trial was so successful, Perpetual Garden made the changes permanent. 

Andrew Barnes says, “this is all about working smarter, not harder.” 

He goes on to say:

“If you engage with your staff, if you give them the opportunity to come up with ideas, if you say to them, ‘look, if you do things differently we will gift you this day off a week,’ what they do is, they change how they behave at work.”

‍Benenati Law Firm

Software companies aren’t the only ones benefiting from a 4-day workweek. Benenati law firm, which specializes in injury and bankruptcy law, experienced an increase in morale and productivity following the implementation of a shorter workweek. And retention numbers haven’t dropped, meaning, they’re remaining competitive even while working less. 

Benenati said. “Productivity is better because everything needs to be done by Thursday and people are fully refreshed after a three-day weekend.”

Benenati took the 4/10 approach, so employees work 10 hours Monday through Thursday. About 4 staff members still work a normal 9-5. And they rotate one attorney every Friday to make sure someone is always there for consultations or calls. 

This example illustrates the kind of flexibility you have when designing a 4-day workweek for your company.

‍How Productive are Employees at Work?

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Just because an employee stays at the office for 8 hours doesn’t mean they’re working the entire time.

‍In order to make an informed decision about switching to a 4-day workweek, especially if you’re doing it on the basis of being more productive, it’s important to bring in some context regarding how productive employees are now.

The following study comes from the UK, but the issues in productivity it finds can be extrapolated to understand American workers. 

Voucher Cloud conducted a poll on 1,989 full-time office workers aged over 18 as part of research into the online habits and productivity of workers.

Respondents were asked, “Do you consider yourself to be productive throughout the entire working day?”

79% said “no.” 

21% said “yes.”

Then the study asked, “If you had to state a figure, how long do you think you spend productively working during work hours on a daily basis?”

The average answer?

“2 hours and 53 minutes.”

The last question we’ll look at from the survey is this, “What are you guilty of spending time doing during the working day rather than working productively?”

Respondents were given a choice of 10 options (they could select more than one). Here’s what they chose:

  1. Checking social media – 47%
  2. Reading news websites – 45%
  3. Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 38%
  4. Making hot drinks – 31%
  5. Smoking breaks – 28%
  6. Text/instant messaging – 27%
  7. Eating snacks – 25%
  8. Making food in office – 24%
  9. Making calls to partner/ friends- 24%
  10. Searching for new jobs – 19%

Here’s how much time they said they spend doing each of these activities:

  1. Checking social media – 44 minutes (spent doing this during working day)
  2. Reading news websites – 1 hour 5 minutes
  3. Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 40 minutes
  4. Making hot drinks – 17 minutes
  5. Smoking breaks – 23 minutes
  6. Text/instant messaging – 14 minutes
  7. Eating snacks – 8 minutes
  8. Making food in office– 7 minutes
  9. Making calls to partner/ friends – 18 minutes
  10. Searching for new jobs- 26 minutes

From this one survey, it’s easy to infer that the majority of workers in any given company are not working all 8 hours while they’re in the office. It hearkens back to the study from the intro which found workers believed they could finish their work in 5 hours with fewer distractions. 

It’s these problems and more that the 4-day workweek can solve. 

The Benefits of a 4-day Workweek

The 4-day workweek has a lot to offer companies willing to give it a try. Here are several to consider:

  • Increased productivity thanks to a mix of additional rest and higher motivation to get more done in less time. 
  • Optimized use of time now that the time allotted to complete work is compressed, encouraging fewer distractions and higher focus. (think Parkinson’s Law.)
  • Satisfied employees who are less stressed, have more balance between work and life, show more engagement at work, are more creative, and provide better customer service.
  • More collaboration with teams on common goals because employees are trying to work smarter rather than harder.
  • Lower unemployment rates because employees are happier with their work and your company.
  • Fewer carbon emissions from commute pollution. 
  • Fewer overhead costs like electricity and office wear and tear. 

‍Drawbacks of a 4-Day Workweek

While we’ve tried to paint a rosy picture of the 4-day workweek throughout this article, it’s critical that we also disclose some of the potential drawbacks. These shouldn’t dissuade you from trying out a 4-day workweek if it makes sense for your business…

But that’s the point of listing these drawbacks…

So you can determine if a 4-day workweek really is right for your company. 

Here are a handful of drawbacks of the 4-day workweek you need to know:

  • It’s risky to cut out an entire work day or reduce hours and expect productive output to remain constant, or go up. Plenty of companies have experimented with the 4-day workweek only to abandon it and return to a traditional 5-day because they were losing too much money. 
  • Many businesses in many industries are required to maintain a 24/7 presence, making a 4-day workweek cumbersome and difficult to manage. 
  • Some workers wish to work more, or longer hours, but may not be able to because of a mandated shorter workweek or fewer labor hours.

‍How to Implement a 4-Day workweek in Your Company

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There’s no “right way” for implementing a 4-day workweek, there are only suggestions and the results from your own experiments.

‍There are many steps you’ll need to take if you seriously want to implement a 4-day workweek. But the suggestions we provide below will help you start moving in the right direction.

‍Be Clear About Your Objectives

Don’t go into a 4-day workweek with a faint objective like “happier employees.” That’s not inspiring and it’s difficult to measure. 

Do you want to reduce absenteeism? 

Increase retention rates?

Drive higher revenue with fewer distractions and wasted time?

Make your objective measurable and motivational to get easy buy-in from executives, in particular, but also some employees.

And get your employees involved. 

Their feedback can lead the way to a successful program.

‍Let the Employees Choose How to Implement It

Another fascinating insight that came out of the Perpetual Guardian example we provided earlier is how the company got their staff involved in implementing a 4-day workweek. 

Since the company didn’t want to lose productivity, they simply asked employees how they should measure productivity going forward. Employees provided a variety of small changes they could test. Some worked, some didn’t. 

The key is not making these changes top-down. 

If you try to mandate changes without getting any input from the people those changes will affect the most, then you may end up with resentful employees and a failed program.

‍Focus on Productive Output Rather Than Hours

Turning away from a focus on hours worked toward a focus on outcomes produced is a huge mindset shift, but it’s crucial for conceptualizing and instituting a 4-day workweek, especially if you don’t “make up for lost hours” with a 10-hour workday. 

This also requires setting client expectations to align with your new schedule. They have to know when they can expect a response from you and when they can’t. 

The question to ponder is:

“Why is 40 hours the established time to complete a job?”

A 40-hour cap on labor is much more about reducing fatigue and burnout than it is about optimizing performance. If a skilled employee can get the same work done in less time with more focus, then why not pay them to do that? 

One Key to the 4-hour workweek: Visual Communication

A 4-hour workweek requires improved communication throughout your organization. Employees will be trying to work as efficiently as possible, which means eliminating as many areas of confusion and disagreement as possible. 

Business process automation plays a role in this, letting you bring in software tools that organize your messages and resources shared into a single platform. 

But at the core of better communication is using all forms of media, not just text.

We’re talking about visual communication - the kind of communication that the majority of people prefer. 

Instead of writing a long email, you could share your screen in a video and walk them through your ideas. 

Instead of holding another long meeting, you could hold a remote conference call in half the time. 

Instead of providing hard-to-understand feedback, you could annotate screenshots

Finding different methods to improve your communication can be a key to improved productivity on the way to a 4-day work-week.

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  • Joe Wright

    Work smarter. You can go back home after achieving your daily targets.

  • Adam Kay

    I need 4 day work week

  • Laura Foster

    Please implement it in PWC.. Very hectic work here.

  • Michael Byrne

    Save the employees. Let them live, work and enjoy..

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Joe Martin

Tech Expert

Joe is VP of Corporate and Demand Marketing at Zight. He also served as the CMO of Stockchain Global and Advisory Board Member at Ylixr. He has over 15 years experience managing various areas of marketing including research, media buying, social, and overall strategy. His analyses have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Associated Press, and Forbes. Joe holds a BSc in Finance and MBA in Strategy & Marketing from the University of Utah. He also has an Executive Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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