The 4-day work week is having a moment. The pandemic lockdown made employers rethink what work is going to look like going forward, and workers are clamoring for a major shift in how and when they work.
Reducing the work week to 32 hours from 40 (without a pay cut) is not a new concept; according to Business Insider; in 2018 New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian gave each of its 230 employees a day off each week. After the eight-week trial, it reported a 20 percent jump in productivity and made a four-day week a permanent policy. Microsoft in Japan launched a successful model in 2019. It’s not surprising that tech companies like Kickstarter and social platform The Financial Diet have recently implemented shorter work weeks, but Unilever, a traditional consumer goods company with over 155,000 employees, is also trying out a 4-day week in its New Zealand office.
Companies who have tried the reduced hours report favorable results. It’s no secret that work expands to fit the time allotted, so when employees are in the office for a shorter number of hours, they tend to finish their work in a shorter number of hours. By cutting out waste from workdays, efficiently managing time, and getting more done in less time (because of fewer meetings), they become more productive in fewer hours. They spend less time on things that don’t matter and more on the things that do.
The workers report feeling less stressed and feeling more balanced. They often spend the extra weekday hours on the errands, appointments, and priorities that they had trouble managing during a 40-hour week. Absenteeism and “presentee-ism,” being physically at work, but not engaged, go down.
If your company is thinking about trying a reduced-hour week, you’ll need to make some changes, and not just to the online timecard system. Companies that have made the successful transition have taken the time to define success and remove barriers to shorter hours. They’ve agreed to measure outcomes rather than time-based inputs and added work life balance as a measurable goal. They’ve set stringent guidelines for meetings, not just when and how to conduct them, but guidelines about whether they’re necessary at all.
It’s important to consider that not everyone will get Fridays off; there may be essential business or customer interactions that must be covered five days a week. That means management will have to come up with a plan that feels fair to everyone while making sure everyone gets input into the process.
In a LinkedIn article about why the Financial Diet is switching to a shorter workweek, Caitlin Lutsch, the company’s Financial Manager, says, “Quite frankly, we wanted to work less. If TFD could be sustainable with our team working 32 hours instead of 40, it seemed like a no-brainer. The team had already been working half-day summer Fridays for years as the business grew at a rapid clip, so we had confidence we could eliminate a few more work hours without issue.”
She goes on to say, “The U.S. has seen worker productivity grow by 34% over the past twenty years, which means we’re seeing roughly the same amount of output in 27 hours as we were in 40 hours in 2001. Why not translate that productivity growth into more free time for employees?”