Pros and cons of the four-day work week

News

The four-day work week has been a topic of discussion amongst employees and employers for quite some time. But since alternative ways of working have become the norm and employers are more open to considering ‘unconventional’ working practices, the discussion around the four-day work week has gained momentum once again.

But what is it all about? Does it work? And what should employers consider before giving the four-day work week a go?

What is the four day work week?

A four-day work week sounds pretty straightforward – four days of work instead of the typical five. But what’s not so clear is the number of hours one is expected to work. A four-day week does not mean reduced hours, only that the working schedule is compressed into four days, meaning employees still work 40 hours a week but for 10 hours per day instead of eight. There is also no rule for which day is excluded from the working week. 

Pros

May have a positive effect of employee wellbeing, engagement and stress, while maintaining/improving productivity 

Iceland sparked worldwide intrigue and debate after the results of their reduced working hour trials were published. The pair of trials, which involved 1.3 percent of the Icelandic workforce found that reduced hours led to ‘better employee wellbeing, with less stress and burnout, while productivity stayed the same or improved.’ Since then, 86% of the Icelandic workforce either work shorter weeks or have the option to do so.

However, we ought to remember this is only one trial – we cannot be sure results like these will always be achieved. We can be most certain that the four-day work week will not work for every organisation or every employee. It’s important that employees steer away from these types of one-size-fits-all solutions to pressing people-related issues like wellbeing, engagement, stress and productivity. To really improve these areas, leaders should consider alternative practices like regular pulse surveys for example. This way, there’s no risk of it not working for the organisation, and only working for some employees. Decisions made based on real data from regular surveys, benefits every single employee and the success of the organisation – guaranteed.

 But it is interesting to think about when it comes to work/life balance and employee wellbeing, as well as its effect on recruitment and retention. Work/life balance, wellbeing and work flexibility are becoming increasingly important to employees. However, there are other ways of improving employee wellbeing, and many flexible working arrangements to consider first.

Read: Employee engagement worth working towards

May reduce absenteeism

Sure, the four day work week may reduce absenteeism – better health due to lower stress. Although a stretch, it’s not impossible – but we’re still not entirely convinced as employees will still be working the same amount of time, just squashed into four days instead of five. Can it really reduce stress that much? Then there’s the case of the chancer employees perhaps feeling less confident to report in ‘sick’ if they only have four days of work, fair enough. But it begs the question – why are employees eager to work ‘less’? Do they feel the organisation lacks support in wellbeing which is why they need more time away, do they feel overworked? Do they feel disengaged and happier when they’re away from the office? The question is not whether the four-day work week is a good idea, the question is, are employees happy right now and is there more that can be done to improve people-related areas for the long term, and for every employee? Employee engagement surveys will help to answer this question and help to improve HR-related areas.

Cons

Customer expectations may not get met

Customers may expect to find people available five days a week – especially if the organisation works with the direct public who may not be familiar with such a schedule. Some roles, like account management for example, may require a more hands-on approach and therefore an employee who’s available to their clients throughout the conventional working week. 

It makes childcare complicated for working parents  

A four-day workweek can make childcare more difficult for working parents. Many daycares and after-school care programs work around an 8 am to 5 pm schedule – the working week that the majority of the parents work. Daycares aren’t going to open at 6 am or stay open until 8 pm to accommodate a parent’s unusual working schedule.

Longer working hours = greater risk of fatigue and low productivity

People may feel refreshed by having an extra day off of work each week but they may also experience a drop in productivity after so many hours at work in a single day.

Learn How to Keep Your Best People In Our Free Guide to Retention