Is a Four-Day Work Week Even Viable? Some Case Studies Say Yes

In recent weeks, those who like to take our morning coffee with a shot of CBC News have been hearing about a vocational framework that turns every weekend into a long weekend.  Trouble is that, on the surface, the framework sounds a little bit…wacky.

The traditional workweek has always been five days a week, eight hours a day.  But as we progress into the 21st century, many employers and employees are now advocating for a shorter workweek, and the idea of the four-day workweek is gaining traction.

And wacky-sounding or not, a recent bill normalizing the four-day work week introduced to US Congress means that the idea is something that many of us will need to take seriously enough at least to consider.  California Rep. Mark Takano, who recently reintroduced the bill, says it would “allow workers to begin reclaiming their time, and their lives, with no loss of pay” and “increase the happiness of humankind.”

What is the four-day work week?

The four-day workweek is a concept where employees work four days a week instead of five, with the same or similar pay and benefits as their counterparts working a traditional five-day week.  The idea is to give employees an extra day off to rest, recharge, and pursue personal interests while still maintaining productivity levels at work.  As the battle to attract and retain top talent rages on across almost all types of businesses, the perk of more free time stands as a highly compelling motivator for employers to offer.

Pros and cons of a four-day work week

The pros of a four-day work week are:

  1. Better work-life balance: With an extra day off, employees can take care of personal errands, spend time with family and friends, and engage in hobbies or other activities that bring them joy.  This leads to better job satisfaction and improved overall well-being.  Employee retention, anyone?
  2. Increased productivity: Many studies have shown that employees who work shorter hours are more productive and efficient.  This is because they have more time to focus on work and are better rested and recharged.
  3. Reduced stress and burnout: A shorter workweek reduces stress and burnout, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and lower rates of absenteeism and turnover.
  4. Cost savings: A shorter workweek can result in cost savings for employers, including lower electricity bills and other operational costs.

However, there are also some potential cons of a four-day workweek, including:

  1. Longer work hours: With only four days to complete work tasks, employees may have to work longer hours, leading to exhaustion and burnout.
  2. Reduced income: A shorter workweek may result in reduced employee income, which could be a concern for some.
  3. Difficulty coordinating schedules: A four-day workweek can be challenging, especially in industries requiring a five-day workweek, such as healthcare and retail.
  4. Reduced customer service: A shorter workweek may result in reduced customer service availability, leading to dissatisfaction and customer loss.

What makes the four-day work week work?

For the four-day workweek to be successful, a few essential factors must be considered.  Firstly, employers must set clear employee expectations and goals, emphasizing productivity and efficiency.  Secondly, employees must manage their workload effectively and efficiently, ensuring they can complete their tasks within the reduced timeframe.  Finally, communication and collaboration between employees must be optimized to ensure that work tasks can be completed efficiently and effectively.

Reading these back, one can’t help but wonder – should we not already be focused on integrating these practices into our workplaces?

Who’s out there using it successfully?

The four-day workweek has been used successfully in various countries and industries.  In New Zealand, for example, a financial services company, Perpetual Guardian, implemented a four-day workweek in 2018, resulting in improved work-life balance and increased productivity.  In Japan, Microsoft also experimented with a four-day workweek and has documented how it lead to improvements in employee happiness and productivity.  Other companies that have implemented the four-day workweek successfully include Shake Shack and Unilever.

Is it already law in any jurisdictions?

Currently, there is no law mandating the use of a four-day workweek.  However, some countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have laws in place that allow employees to reduce their working hours.  Closer to home, some rural Ontario municipalities are implementing the four-day work week for their operations.  We’re sure many others are keeping a keen eye on these experiments to watch how they turn out.

What types of organizations are best suited to experimenting with the four-day work week?

Understandably, many of us will balk at the idea of such a structure; it’s contrary to what we believe about productivity.  It’s contrary to the current hustle culture.  It may offend the work ethic of some folks.   It’s just not being done.

Industries that require a five-day workweek, such as healthcare, retail, and manufacturing, may find it challenging to implement a four-day workweek due to the need for continuous operations and round-the-clock staffing.  Restaurants and other services typically open seven days per week could struggle to amend their staffing structures.   The very idea of a 32-hour work week is very disruptive to so many.

On the other hand, those working within a more rigidly-structured Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 framework may think back to a time when they knew there was a long weekend coming up but still delivered a huge project on time.  Perhaps some will consider a work week when they were about to head out for a week of vacation, and in the days leading up to their departure, they got deep into flow with their work – banging out everything on their to-do list and wondering why they couldn’t channel this burst of organized super-productivity every week.  It is, after all, a well-documented fact that time constraints can be used to drive personal productivity to marvellous effect.

In conclusion, the four-day workweek is a concept that is gaining traction as employers and employees look for ways to improve work-life balance, reduce stress, and increase productivity.  While there are pros and cons to consider, the four-day workweek has been used successfully in various countries and industries.  However, it may not be suitable for every organization, and industries that require continuous operations and round-the-clock staffing may find it challenging to implement a four-day workweek.  Nonetheless, with careful planning and clear communication, the four-day workweek can be a viable option for many organizations looking to enhance their employees’ well-being and productivity.

More reading on the four day work week:

Congressman wants to make 32-hour workweek US law to ‘increase the happiness of humankind’

New pilot project in the UK tests 4-day work week

More days off: 4-day week works for Edmonton public relations agency

Benefits of 4-day work week touted by BC.  Greens, local companies

Picture of Jason King

Jason King

As the CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, I blend entrepreneurship and B2B tech marketing expertise to bring you essential news and insights. Join me in navigating the business landscape as we work together to foster growth, collaboration, and build community prosperity in the heart of Oshawa.


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