Americans are overworked. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, U.S. employees work an average of 1,791 hours per year versus an OECD country average of 1,716 — the sixth highest in the world.
To give workers in their state an extra day off to recharge, Maryland lawmakers introduced a new bill “promoting, incentivizing and supporting the experimentation and study” of a four-day workweek for private companies and government agencies. It was ultimately withdrawn.
Let’s take a look at how employees and employers could thrive with a four-day workweek and whether such a schedule could become the new norm.
[See: The 25 Best Jobs of 2023.]
What Is a 4-Day Workweek?
A four-day workweek is exactly what it sounds like: a workweek during which employees work for four days and take the other three off.
Here’s how it works: Instead of working 40 hours a week, four-day workweeks allow you to work only 32 hours while receiving the same pay and benefits. Depending on the company or the industry, you might work Mondays through Thursdays and get Fridays off. Or, you may have the freedom to choose your extra day off.
Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek
The idea of a four-day workweek has been gaining traction in recent years, with companies like Microsoft and Amazon adopting it in some form or another. But why are businesses making the switch? What are the benefits of a four-day workweek?
Increased Productivity and Employee Morale
Despite common misconceptions, longer working hours don’t always translate to better productivity and quality of work. Research from Stanford University found that worker performance declines sharply once employees are asked to work more than 50 hours a week. In fact, the additional output created by those extended working hours is so minute that the extra hours are often not worth the effort.
Rather than forcing employees through hours of unproductive labor, the four-day workweek model allows them to rest so that they can reemerge with a refreshed outlook and optimism for their jobs. Most important, when employees can work without sacrificing physical health or mental well-being, it fosters an environment of productivity and innovation as they become more engaged with their work.
Reduced Business Expenses
Moving to a four-day workweek doesn’t just benefit employees, it also offers employers a significant cost advantage. Variable overhead expenses like electricity, office supplies and janitorial services can add up quickly. By shifting to a four-day workweek, employers could save up to 20% on those expenditure items and use the funds in other business areas.
Plus, when employees have a manageable workload and reasonable working hours, companies are more likely to retain their top talent, which keeps employee replacement costs down.
Overall, a four-day workweek could be a win-win situation for everyone involved because employers save money on business expenses and employees are happier and more productive.
Better Work-Life Balance
According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, not having a work-life balance could increase burnout and lead to lower career satisfaction. What’s worse, burnout could often be long-lasting and affect your mental and physical health.
So, it’s no surprise that many people want to spend less time at work, as indicated in Joblist’s survey showing that more than 94% of full-time salaried U.S. employees would prefer a four-day workweek.
Introducing a four-day workweek could be an excellent solution to help employees achieve an improved work-life balance. By allowing them to devote more time to activities outside of work, employees are more likely to come back to work with increased focus and motivation.
Jack Darracott, web app developer at Marketing Signals, wrote in an email, “Not only has a four-day workweek helped with my home life, but my work has also improved. My day off serves as a ‘reset day,’ so when I’m back in the office, I can look at work with a fresh pair of eyes. You couldn’t pay me enough to return to five-day workweeks.”
[See: 25 Best Jobs That Pay $100K.]
Challenges of a 32-Hour Workweek
While working less may sound like a dream come true for many, there are some downsides you should consider before interviewing at a company offering a four-day workweek.
It Could Lead to More Stress
If your company expects you to complete the same number of tasks with fewer hours available each day, you must remain productive or you could risk falling behind. This compressed schedule can make you feel overwhelmed and anxious as you try to stay afloat while juggling multiple projects.
Jenn Lim, global workplace expert, says, “Doing the same amount of work in less time can set unrealistic expectations, leading to increased burnout and stress.” To make a four-day workweek successful, “organizations and their teams will have to be very diligent about setting time (and honoring that time) for deep work.”
It May Not Be Feasible for Every Job Type
For some positions, such as customer service, it may not be practical to limit employee hours to a shorter work week as employees may need to be available five days a week to provide customer support.
“Businesses must realize that the four-day workweek is yet another one-size-fits-all approach to workplace flexibility that will serve some employees and hurt others,” says Gabriela Mauch, vice president of the ActivTrak Productivity Lab. For example, “employees who must take customer calls and fulfill external commitments across five days may feel resentful or short-changed compared to their four-day-a-week co-workers.”
It Could Attract ‘Quiet Quitter’ Talent
Adriana Herrera, founder of PayDestiny, wrote in an email, “Four-day workweeks could attract quiet quitter talent — people who are rather disengaged and want to do the bare minimum at work.”
In positions that require rigorous effort to be successful, passive individuals could lower the team’s productivity and diminish output. However, Herrera says this problem is usually preventable by clearly “communicating the metrics a position is measured by in the job description.”
Companies Experimenting With 4-Day Workweeks
To improve productivity and employee satisfaction, many companies have already taken the bold step of shifting to a four-day workweek. Here are some of them:
1. Bolt: In 2022, Bolt — a San Francisco-based tech company — permanently transitioned to a four-day workweek after a successful initial pilot the year prior. The company found that 86% of its employees were more efficient with their time and 94% of team members were satisfied with the new work schedule.
2. Kickstarter: In the summer of 2021, Kickstarter’s CEO Aziz Hasan announced his plans to test the 32-hour workweek. After a successful pilot, the company has decided to continue the four-day workweek for the foreseeable future. Wolf Owczarek, Kickstarter’s director of business operations, wrote in the company’s blog, “The four-day work week has also paid off for the company as a whole, through productivity gains that have resulted from staff finding smarter ways to work.”
3. Buffer: Buffer, a social media management platform, is another pioneer of the four-day workweek. The company’s HR team surveyed its employees at the end of a one-month 32-hour workweek trial in May 2020 and found reduced work hours:
— Boosted autonomy from 4.3 to 4.5 out of a score of 5.
— Lowered stress levels from 3.3 to 2.7 out of 5.
— Improved work happiness from 3.9 to 4.2 out of 5.
As of today, Buffer is still going strong with this model and may continue indefinitely.
Are 4-Day Workweeks Here to Stay?
The pandemic has shown that we can reimagine the workplace and make drastic changes to how we work. Lim says, “For so long, the U.S. has been a work-first culture, and we have seen the rejection of that through trends like the ‘great resignation’ and quiet quitting” after COVID-19. “A four-day workweek is just another layer of the increased demand for flexibility and less work.”
And while it’s difficult to predict whether we’ll see an increase in the number of states recommending or incentivizing shorter workweeks this year, Lim says, “We’ll likely see more organizations test and adopt this model soon.”
What to Keep in Mind as an Employee
While the idea of a four-day workweek could be enticing, don’t let that be the sole reason you apply to work for an employer. Remember, a four-day workweek at the wrong company could negatively impact your mental health and career growth — especially if the company lacks support or opportunities for career progression.
So, before submitting your application for a position, thoroughly research the company to see if its mission and corporate culture align with your goals and values.
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How Employees and Employers Can Thrive With a 4-Day Workweek originally appeared on usnews.com