Is the 4 Day Work Week Really a Good Idea?

authorShannon Correia dateNovember 26, 2021

There’s been lots of talk recently about the 4 day work week. The question is - can this really work? In this article, we’ll be exploring this phenomenon to reveal whether this is a viable long-term option for your business. Consider this a cautionary tale, as with every benefit comes the potential for problematic consequences for the workplace. 

It’s no secret that the working world and workplace environments have changed forever. Disruptions saw the wave of hybrid and remote working explode. This wave has grown, with the ‘great resignation’ sweeping over the US. 

We’ve all been there - the weekend couldn’t come sooner and it can feel like it’s over just as it began. Much of society has been facing reform in the face of traditions, and the working week is one of them. There are many ways that copy culture is changing. In the most extreme form, we’ve seen Portugal pass a law that makes it illegal for a boss to contact their employees outside of working hours. 

Millennials have often been referred to as the ‘slash/slash’ generation. They’re the worker bees managing side jobs and aiming to excel in their ability to go above and beyond. The auto-response to “how are you?” Had proudly become “busy” and it was all about the hustle. Today, this ethos is criticized, resulting in a number of societal shifts. 

Groups of people around the world are calling for a 4-day workweek. This comes after people have reevaluated their lifestyles, seeking less burnout and stress in favor of wholesome and balanced lives. 

Advocates for shorter work weeks claim it increases wellbeing for workers - and productivity for the workplace. Sounds like a win-win, but is this really the case, and is it feasible for businesses?

We’ll begin with the strongest advocating state of the shorter workweek:

An extra day of the week off is certainly a perk and one that may well draw top-tier talent. At the end of the day, what counts is that work is completed timorously and to the best possible degree. It is true that the best at what they do are able to work quickly and are essentially not compensated for their time, but their output and ability to work that quickly which has taken years of experience to acquire. However, it may still be helpful to have access to these employees over the traditional 5 days and provide your business with a competitive edge. For those who can fit their workload into a shorter week, there is no reason they should be overworked for it as a consequence. 

That said, the other benefits need to be weighed up with the relative risks and consequences. Let’s take a look.

Improving the quality of life: With more time to spend with family and doing leisure activities, you’re wellbeing and quality of life can improve. The overall quality of life is not only measured in time, so it would need to be taken into consideration with other factors, including the type of lifestyles your monetary rewards allow you to lead. Psychologists also note that people have an innate desire to be driven by purpose - something many people find in work. In other words, this time would need to be challenging and rewarding. 

The next benefit is increased motivation since employees are happier with more time off, so they’re inspired to get through their work faster. The question is, can the work really be completed with an 8-hour reduction? And if so, is that to an acceptable quality and standard? When the last day of the week rolls around, people tend to take a more relaxed approach, eager for the weekend. Could this result in the 4 day work week technically being reduced even further? It would require strong dedication on those 4 days and we’ve seen the ability of people to hold their attention and focus decrease over time. 

Another aspect is that this way of working can reduce the cost of burnout. Being stressed affects employees negatively and the employee turnover rates or subsequent absenteeism can take a toll on a company. Many companies, whether shortening their workweek or not, have taken steps to address these issues by introducing total rewards strategies. 

Related: Total Rewards Strategy: The Future of the Workplace

Businesses also need to factor in the potential risks and rewards that shorter workweeks pose for clients and customers. Naturally, this will be different across industries and sectors, but having access to services and employees is a crucial factor to consider.

Just as there are different learning styles, there are different working styles too. This may or may not work and it would be different for each employee. Generally, when a time is set to complete a task, you’re able to make it work. However, procrastinators will procrastinate. As much as having an extra day for the weekend may be beneficial, over time the amount of pressure required to get it all done on short time may start to build and result in the very same issues that the 4 day work week seeks to avoid, which is burnout and work-related stress. 

Most advise trailing the 4-day work week if you’d like to implement it at your business. If you’re on the fence about it, consider watching the business that has implemented it to see if it continues to work over the long term. And if you’ve got employees excelling and getting the work done, perhaps consider it on a one-on-one basis. If this aligns with your ethos and is feasible, then by all means go forth and let us know how it goes. 

At Nexa, our global workforce means our weekends fall on different days of the week, affording us the ability to operate 6-days per week. This is a major benefit to our clients and works for us. Our workers have flexibility in their virtual workspaces and we have benefit systems in place to keep our employees happy, motivated, and supported. 

To discuss your HR needs, book a call with us at Nexa. We’d love to help you find solutions that work for your business.