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Is a four-day work week the future of work?

The standard eight hours a day, five days a week work week evolved slowly from the late 1800s until 1940 when Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to limit the work week to 40 hours. Labor unions and technology both combined to make the five-day work week possible. In light of Covid and the Great Resignation, many are wondering if it’s time to make another shift.

The Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week  

An abbreviated work week has benefits for employees, employers, and the greater community. Among the benefits:

Work-Life Balance

When people have an extra day off during the work week, they have more time to spend with their families, pursue their interests and make personal appointments. A poll showed that 62% of employers with four-day work weeks reported fewer sick days being used. Interestingly, most studies have shown no reduction in productivity with a shorter work week.

Retention

Having a better work-life balance leads to less burn out and more loyalty to an organization. Employees who enjoy the flexibility will be less likely to leave your organization.

The Economy

During the Covid Crisis New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that a four-day workweek could boost her country’s economy. She thought individuals could use the long weekends to visit local spots, making up for the lack of foreign tourism. The same could be true for other areas.

Health

Speaking of Covid, the pandemic showed us how important it is that people stop coming to work sick. The less time workers spend breathing on each other, the healthier everyone stays.

The Environment

Keeping employees off the road and keeping the lights off 20% of the time can help lower your organization’s carbon footprint. If your organization has an environmental mission it’s especially important that you champion unique ways of reducing your impact on the environment.

The Problems with a Four-Day Work Week

No schedule or solution will work for every organization. Changing from a well-established norm like the five-day week to something new can require an adjustment period and changes. Here are some of the problems some organizations have found with a four-day week.

Legal issues

Many workplace laws assume the traditional eight-hour day, five days a week. Make sure you fully understand the implications of a four-day week on things like overtime pay and rules about breaks.

Productivity

Many organizations have found that a four-day week increases productivity, but still others have found that it reduces productivity. Before deciding on a plan for your organization, make sure to define what you mean by productivity both on an institutional and individual employee level.

Scheduling difficulties

If your organization needs coverage five-seven days a week then a four-day week means that you’ll have people working a variety of schedules. This can make it difficult to schedule meetings.

Equity

Depending on your organization, you may have some people for whom a four-day week simply isn’t possible. If you have some employees working four-day weeks and some working five-day weeks employees can start to feel like the plan is inequitable. Some organizations allow staff to choose a four-day week at a reduced pay. This can also create equity issues.

Pressure

Most organizations structure a 4-day week with Monday or Friday off, creating a 3-day weekend. Holding on to that benefit may create stress for employees who want to make sure they get everything done so that they don’t lose their “third day.”

How to Create a Four-Day Work Week

Generally speaking, there are two ways to create a four-day week. One is that people continue to work eight-hours a day, but they only work four days a week. Another option is to have people work 10-hour shifts, four days a week. Depending on your needs, there are also more complicated schedules that could be created.

If you are a museum, arts group, or service organization that’s open seven days a week, you probably already have a staff working a variety of schedules, which would make implementing an alternative schedule easier.

Making the Case

At Brighter Strategies we’re happy to help you discuss ways to make your office culture more welcoming and efficient. A four-day work week might be a solution for you. If you’re considering shifting your work week the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global is dedicated to researching the topic and has a lot of supporting research that you can bring to your leadership.

Inclusive Hiring Framework

Attracting, hiring, and retaining talent are critical elements of any Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan. But having a diverse pool of candidates to choose from doesn’t just happen. Paying attention to sourcing techniques, the interview process, candidate evaluation and onboarding is necessary to developing a well-rounded workforce.

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