The five-day work week was invented in the 19th century to suit the demands of factory work. Before that, tenanted farmers worked 6 days. However, a lot has changed and it may be time to reassess the way we work, identifying solutions more in-line with current needs. Are we winding down the work week as jobs evolve?
The four-day work week has limited adoption. However, for the organizations that have rolled out a 4-day work week, they are reporting it’s good for employees, customers and the bottom line.
For decades, murmurs of shorter work weeks have abound. Have we finally found a solution? Let’s explore the 4-day work week, how it can be implemented, upsides, downsides and actions Corporate Real Estate teams can take to support successful rollout.
How to Rollout a Four Day Work Week
Rolling out a four-day work week can be done in several different ways.
An organization can truncate the week into four days meaning employees work 10-hour days.
Organizations can reduce operating hours to the equivalent of a 4-day week, while paying the same rate for a full 5-day week.
Organizations can offer employees the choice – 10-hour days at their current pay scales or shorten days and offer pro-rata pay.
Once the decision is made on method, there’s still more decisions to make. Namely, does the entire organization get the same day off or are days off staggered?
Giving everyone the same day off enables the power and energy to be shut off for one more day.
Staggering days off enables workstation reduction and releasing excess space. Both, energy reduction and staggered days off strategies saves the organization money and boosts their environmental credibility.
4-Day Work Week Upsides
Even though there are limited examples of organizations moving to four-day work weeks, those flagbearers are singing its praises.
They are reporting increased productivity, greater employee wellbeing and – depending on how it’s been rolled out – a boost in local employment rates, reduced environmental impact or reduced operational costs.
Employees also get another day away from work and save money on commuting.
A New Zealand based organization, Perpetual Guardian, invited researchers to measure employee response as they transitioned to a 4-day work week. Perpetual Guardian reduced work hours from 40 to 32 while maintaining the same rate of pay.
Researchers confirmed that productivity increased by 20%. Employees were more focused and diligent through their days – better attendance and time management. Generally, employees evaluate what needs to be achieved and the best method resulting in employees spending less time on inefficient tasks like meetings. Through the transition, employees reported their teams were stronger and functioned better together.
Management noted that their teams were more creative.
In figures recently released reporting on national productivity, the UK ranks relatively poor. This, despite the fact, that British employees work the longest hours in the EU. Productivity is not just determined by number of hours worked, but also by quality which is impacted through wellbeing, fatigue and overall health measures.
Greater Employee Wellbeing
In the same research, Perpetual Guardian’s employees enjoyed the transition to a 4-day work week.
Employees who work a 4 day work week report higher satisfaction levels with their jobs. They feel more engaged and feel their work had greater meaning.
Again, in the Perpetual Guardian research, almost a quarter of employees reported they managed to successfully balance their work and personal lives more effectively. Because of being able to balance their obligations, stress decreased by seven percent and work satisfaction increased by 5%.
helps level the playing field between women and men. It’s easier for mothers returning-to-work because they don’t need to commit to five days. Men enjoy being freer to attend to domestic duties.
Increased Organizational Reputation
Who wouldn’t want to work 4 days a week, especially if you’re working 4 days and getting paid for five? Immediately, this fringe culture becomes very attractive, enabling stronger recruitment practices. Transition to 4 days, have a choice of really strong candidates, grow because of new candidates coming on-board and hire more due to exponential growth. Rinse and repeat.
4-day work weeks appeal to young families and returning-to-work mothers.
Once employees are embedded in their roles and teams, it’s going to be very hard for them to move back to a five-day week. Their focus and work satisfaction is high and they’re confident each day going into work of achieving targets because of their strong, cohesive teams. Knowledge will stay within the company as retention rates reach unheard of highs.
The conventional work week is five-days. Introducing a 4-day work week is going to create gaps that may need backfilling – either through increased part-time or full-time headcount.
This is going to further boost bottom-line achievement. Employees are hyper-motivated, achieving upwards of 20% of higher levels of productivity. Plus, there’s the extra headcount similarly achieving higher targets. Win-win.
Reducing Environmental Impact
The four-day work week reduces an organization’s and employee’s carbon footprint.
The obvious one is, employees are cutting their weekly commute by 20%.
Depending on how organizations rollout their 4-day work week strategy they can realize either energy reduction or space reduction.
If all employees are off on the same day, then that’s a 20% reduction in energy.
If the organization staggers days off, not backfilling days by hiring more, then they are able to adopt an agile environment and reduce their workstation count by 25%. This, in combination with less meetings (and, by default, less usage of meeting space), enables a space reduction of more than 25%!
Reduced Operational Costs
Reiterating the benefits mentioned in reducing environmental impact – those same benefits also reduce capital requirements.
Reduced energy usage correlates in smaller energy bills.
Space is the second highest cost for any organization after employees. Imagine being able to reduce the second highest business cost by 25%+?!
4 Day Work Week Downsides
Of course, this is the real world. So, we all know that even the best plans have downsides. A 4-day work week, for all that it does deliver, is no different.
An obvious, big downside is that the four-day work week is very unconventional! There are very few examples to understand the full impact – positive and negative.
Depending on where in the world the practice is rolled out, the idea may just not be embraced. In the U.S., if you can do the same amount of work in less time, then the company may just want you to do more work instead. It really is critical to communicate working hours, ensuring everyone has a hard stop when they should.
Moving to 10-hour days means employees are at work two hours longer each day. It’s hard to stay motivated and focused that length of time. It’s also very unhealthy to remain sedentary for that length of time.
A four-day work week may also be the productivity hack that’s second best. A big contributor to stress is a lack of managerial support, so the problem’s not going to be fixed by four-day weeks.
France reduced working hours and a negative that came out of the trail was that organizations intensified work to an unpleasant degree, making work more stressful.
As outlined in the upsides section, wellbeing is boosted by a sense of purpose at work, while also being able to address life needs and engage with family and friends.
However, with the limited amount of companies offering 4-day work weeks, this can cause logistical nightmares for employees.
Child care centres are based around the usual 7.5-8 hour work day and can be costed on 5-day weeks. Being the one parent who works 10-hour days may be a difficult sell when trying to arrange early drop-off and late collection times. Billing may be arranged across a typical 5-day work week, so the choice becomes, does the four-day work week parent swallow the loss and keep their child at home while paying or drop them off? This latter option also reduces the environmental benefits as they are commuting to their child care centre.
Also, if all an employee’s family and friends are working conventional 5-day work weeks, they’ll soon find themselves organizing a kickabout at the local park and being the only one to shop up. How beneficial are people going to find time designed to spend with family and friends when they’re forced to spend it alone?
Depending on where the employee is based, there may be hidden (or additional) costs to rolling out ten hour 4-day work weeks.
For instance, in California and a few other locations, an employee receives overtime pay after working more than eight hours in a single day. So, a California non-exempt employee on a four-day workweek would receive 32 hours of straight pay and eight hours of overtime every week.
Actions Corporate Real Estate Teams Can Take to Support Successful Rollout
The above maps out both the upsides and downsides of moving to a four-day week.
CRE teams can help to mitigate some of the downsides. Key areas that can potentially be negatively affected by this transition include productivity and wellbeing. Longer days leads to discomfort, tiredness and distractions – especially when trying to balance life obligations like child care. Additionally, as the phrase goes, ‘all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.’ It can be hard to feel connected to teams when everything is about maximizing efficiency and gaining greater operational strengths.
CRES teams can look to deploying strategies such as activity-based working or incorporating a mix of desk styles – including standing desks. Having the choice of how to work will help employees find what’s best for them across a longer working day and avoid reduced focus.
Additionally, environmental conditions are heavily linked to productivity. Temperature, air quality and lighting greatly impacts how employees feel. CRE teams can easily monitor conditions and balance the environment helping employees remain comfortable and focused through a ten-hour work day.
Knowing how important socializing is to the workplace fabric, CRES teams can look to build specially designed break-out space fostering organic conversations and interactions. This can be aimed at increasing interactions out-of-office hours (arranging free breakfasts) or during.
CRES teams may also recognize an easy win – consolidating space and saving on capital.
The four-day work week doesn’t look as though it will take hold tomorrow.
But, there are advantages that are appealing and, of course, downsides.
CRES Teams knowledge and influence over building and space deployment can ensure the adoption of a four-day work week is more successful than failure.