How Does a 4-Day Workweek Work?

A recent Wall Street Journal article pondered whether the four-day workweek would become the “future of work.” It’s a good question, since the COVID-19 pandemic has led many companies to think outside of the box in attempting to safeguard their employees’ mental health against burnout from long workdays combined with intensified work-life juggles.

Companies With a 4-Day Workweek

A growing number of companies either now offer staff the flexibility of a four-day workweek or are preparing to pilot such a model. Kickstarter is one company that’s doing the latter starting in 2022. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based software firm Monograph, have been long-time practitioners of the four-day model, having given workers a permanent 32-hour workweek since its launch in 2016. Others, like growth content company Nectafy, began offering employees a four-day workweek in 2020, in response to the pandemic.

But what exactly does a four-day workweek model look like in practice? What are its benefits and potential drawbacks? Can cutting one day out of the traditional workweek really help improve work-life balance and prevent burnout? Let’s explore the basics.

[SEE: 9 Companies That Offer Unlimited Vacation Days.]

The 4-Day Workweek Model in Practice

Companies have some discretion in how they structure a four-day workweek for their staff. The basic four-day workweek model involves employees logging four days a week for their employer rather than the traditional five days a week. While a typical five-day schedule requires 40 hours of work, a four-day schedule can vary in the number of work hours expected.

Some companies mandate that their employees must still fulfill a 40-hour week, but they can complete these hours in four days, working 10-hour days. This approach allows three days off from work instead of the standard two-day weekend. Other organizations allow employees to decrease their required weekly work hours from 40 to 32. This option is usually accomplished by having people work a standard, eight-hour day for four days rather than five.

Employers may also vary in their approach to which days of the week employees can schedule their workdays. Some companies might want everyone working on the same four days (such as Monday through Thursday, with Friday through Sunday off), while others might allow people a choice in which four days they work. Similarly, you might work for a company that requires you to work your four-day schedule during specific hours (such as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Your boss might also green light more flexibility in choosing when you start and stop your workday or even allow weekend work to count toward your four-day workweek.

[READ: 8 Types of Employee Benefits.]

Benefits and Drawbacks of a 4-Day Workweek

This type of work model offers many potential advantages, which include:

Better work-life balance. By having fewer days either in an actual office or working remotely, employees gain back an additional day to do other things in their lives, whether to take care of personal and family responsibilities or enjoy some much-needed downtime. The pandemic-induced “great resignation” — during which burned out workers, particularly Millennial and Gen Z workers, have left their jobs in a mass exodus, particularly among the younger Millennial and Gen Z workers — can potentially be prevented by allowing workers the bandwidth they need from fewer work days. A four-day workweek provides a more equitable balance between days off (three days not working) and days on (four days working) than the traditional 5:2 ratio.

Less stress. While this might not necessarily be the case for people working 10-hour days, the four-day workweek — particularly in the reduced-hour model of 32 hours a week — offers the possibility for decreased employee stress levels. With an extra “weekend” day to manage personal matters outside the office, plus fewer days to contend with work-related headaches, the flexibility of working four days instead of five can help quell anxiety.

Improved productivity. While it’s counterintuitive, working less has been proven in multiple studies to lead to greater productivity. Again, these effects may backfire if long, 10-hour days lead to fatigue and mistakes. But the basic concept behind the four-hour workweek that allows three days for employees to reboot and relax — or at least to avoid adding “work for their company” to their to-do list that day — can create fresher, more well-rested employees who feel better and can get more done on their four days in the office.

[See: 20 Work-Life Balance Tips and Secrets From CEOs.]

The main potential drawbacks to the four-day workweek come into play if your employer’s model requires 40 hours of work compressed into fewer days. All of the benefits above — better work-life balance, less stress and improved productivity — can be undone by longer workdays that cause employees to lose focus, feel stressed out and have suboptimal work-life balance four days of the week.

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