The Benefits and Challenges of a Four-Day Week

The Benefits and Challenges of a Four-Day Week

June 05, 2023

Stress and anxiety continue to pose a risk to employees and employers. More than 45% of workers feel burned out, according to a 2023 survey from Eagle Hill Consulting. To alleviate the mental health challenges facing employees, companies are seeking unique solutions. One idea generating buzz is the four-day workweek.

While the four-day workweek isn’t a new idea, it’s gaining momentum and media attention. The U.K. recently completed a six-month trial involving over 60 companies and almost 3,000 employees. Spain started a four-day pilot program in December 2022. And in a survey of senior managers in corporate Canada, 91% favored a four-day week for their employees. 

Employers around the globe are keeping an eye on the processes and results of condensed work schedules. The results have been largely positive for employees and employers in the U.K. trial. More than 90% of the participating companies continued the four-day week after the trial. 

But it may not work for all industries or organizations. Whether a four-day week will work for your company depends on your business model, your company culture and the type of four-day schedule you choose.

Four-day workweek options

There are many ways of offering a shortened workweek. Some examples include:

  • Reducing weekly work hours to 32 and implementing four eight-hour days
  • Reducing weekly work hours to 36 and implementing four nine-hour days 
  • Offering half-days on Thursdays and Fridays
  • Offering four-day workweeks during times when productivity is lower, such as the summer or holiday season

To date, the best results for employee health and engagement have come from four-day, 32-hour work schedules. Organizations and employees haven’t found the same benefits from packing 40 hours of work into a four-day workweek. The state of Utah tried this approach and returned to five-day workweeks because employees didn’t see positive results.

Benefits of a shorter week

In the U.S., software company Wildbit has used four-day workweeks for over five years. Although it began as an experiment, they continued the practice after finding that employees accomplished more during the trial period. Employees became more efficient and could get the same amount of work done in fewer hours.

The U.K. trial, which took place from June to December 2022, reported significant improvements for employees and employers. For the trial, employees cut their workweek from 40 to 32 hours. Employers kept salaries the same, and employees pledged to maintain or increase productivity. 

At the end of the trial, researchers from Cambridge University and Boston College found:

  • 73% of employees said their lives improved, reporting better sleep and mental health.
  • 71% experienced less burnout.
  • 60% said their work-life balance improved.
  • 48% were more satisfied with their jobs.

Companies in the trial reported that revenue and productivity largely stayed the same or increased. Retention rates improved, with resignations down 57% from the year before. Sick days also went down, by 65%.

For companies that embrace a four-day week, benefits include:

  • Enhanced morale — An extra day off can improve job satisfaction and engagement. The U.K. trial reported that 96% of employees were happy with the four-day schedule.
  • Greater creativity and collaboration  Employees who are focused on efficiency show more willingness to solve problems together. They’re also more likely to come up with innovative solutions.
  • Improved productivity — When employees have less time to finish the same amount of work, they find ways to become more productive. Employees have identified and eliminated tasks that waste time, such as unnecessary meetings or distractions like social media.
  • Better health and work-life balance — Employees are increasingly looking for jobs with better work-life balance. Employees in the U.K. trial reported lower levels of stress and burnout. In addition, Inc. magazine reported that 40% of these employees said they had fewer issues with sleep and insomnia.
  • Improved gender diversity — Unpaid caregiving duties are often performed by women, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans notes. Allowing an extra day off could make it easier for women to fulfill caregiving responsibilities away from the office and get the same face time at work the other four days.

Challenges of a shorter week

A condensed workweek isn’t practical for some organizations. Customer service, hospitality, production and manufacturing companies may find it difficult to schedule necessary coverage with shorter workweeks. And companies in which some employees work four-day weeks while others can’t run the risk of weakening morale and culture. 

Other challenges to a four-day week include:

  • Increased costs  Offering the same pay for fewer hours may be too expensive for some companies. It may require cutting back on raises, vacation time or other benefits to offset the cost. If productivity dips, some companies may have to add employees to make up for fewer work hours.
  • Greater stress due to longer days — For some employees, having less time to do the same job can create stress and anxiety. And, for employees who work four 10-hour days, the long days can be harder on their health.
  • Industry-specific problems — Some organizations require 24/7 coverage or have scheduling demands that make a four-day workweek infeasible. In the hospitality industry, for example, fewer workdays may make it impossible to keep up with competitors.

Tips for successful implementation

In a white paper, Perpetual Guardian offers advice for companies considering a shorter workweek, including:

  • Be clear about the goal. What’s the main reason you want to implement this change? Can you accomplish your goals with a shortened week?
  • Ask your employees how to make it work. Ask teams how best to measure their productivity and how they can help make a four-day schedule successful.
  • Develop a flexible policy. Let employees decide on a schedule that works for them but still meets departmental and organizational needs. Some employees may want to work four eight-hour days. Others may prefer five shorter days or a different arrangement. Empowering your employees to make this decision can increase the likelihood of success.
  • Try it out first. Do a trial run before making a permanent change. This allows you to work out any problems.

Recent efforts show that four-day workweeks can help your employees and your company. But the potential benefits depend on the type of four-day schedule, your company culture, buy-in from leadership and staff, and other important factors. 

Before you plan permanent changes to your work schedule, check with your employees about their stress levels and how they think a shorter workweek could affect them. Also, measure productivity and revenue over time. A process of trial and error is sometimes necessary to discover the best solution for your company and employees.