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Are four-day workweeks right for your company?

December 2, 2019
6 minute read

Are four-day workweeks right for your company?

By Shannon Howard December 2, 2019

There’s a hot new business trend that’s gaining traction: the four-day workweek. 

Also known as a compressed workweek, companies either offer four 10-hour days or four eight-hour days. No matter the number of hours offered, 58% of employees support the four-day workweek.

Regardless of the method, businesses across industries are starting to consider the potential benefits of decreasing the workweek from five days to four. On the reverse, many companies feel uneasy about the idea. They don’t believe the challenges of running a business on a compressed week outweigh the benefits it could provide employees. 

If you’re considering the switch to a four-day workweek, consider the pros and cons. Then you can make an educated decision on whether the switch is right for your company. 

Cons of the four-day workweek

Transitioning to a four-day workweek is a hard ask for many businesses. They have to consider how the company runs and how it competes within its industry. However, it can also affect workers.

The Washington Post reported several reasons why businesses may not want to switch to this shortened schedule. One of the biggest concerns is asking employees to do the same amount of work in fewer hours, which would be the case for businesses that choose four eight-hour days. It may also require hourly employees to take a pay cut. 

For companies that impose four 10-hour days, there’s a concern that employees may become burnt out or suffer health issues due to the longer working days. “I think this may work for some people. But when you try to work 10 or 12 hours per day, you increase your risk of injuries. When you work long hours, you’re more likely to get chronic diseases,” Xiaoxi Yao, a Mayo Clinic researcher, told the Washington Post.

On the business side of things, companies are worried about how to remain competitive if they’re open one less day. Treehouse, a tech HR firm, tried the compressed workweek for a decade—only to go back to a typical five-day week in 2016. “It’s simply hard to compete if you’re working 80% of the time your competitors are,” said founder Ryan Carson.

Shannon at computer outside

Pros of the four-day workweek

Despite all the potential cons of the four-day workweek, it has its healthy share of positives. Most notable are the work-life balance benefits it can provide employees. 

Norway and Denmark have already implemented a 32-hour workweek. If the U.S. were to implement similar policies, workers would receive almost two additional months of vacation per year, according to the People’s Policy Project. That additional time off could allow employees to spend more time with their families or pick up new hobbies. 

There are also a handful of companies that have implemented these changes, including the New Zealand-based Perpetual Guardian. The company dropped its hours from 40 hours per week to 32—and reported a “24% improvement in work-life balance” for its employees. Workers were more likely to return to work energized and keep that energy throughout the week. 

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks. Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five,” said researcher Jarrod Haar, who studied the company for two months during the transition.

But employees weren’t the only ones to benefit from the experiment. The company also saw a 20% decrease in overhead costs. For example, the electricity bill was lower because the building was used less. 

Lastly, compressed workweeks have allowed some businesses to stay competitive when recruiting candidates. Killer Visual Strategies, a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, slashed recruiting time in half thanks to the promotion of a shortened workweek. Companies that offer four-day workweeks may also alleviate high employee turnover. 

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Tips for transitioning to a four-day workweek

Now that you’ve explored the pros and cons, you may be wondering how you can transition to a compressed workweek. It certainly requires a lot of planning. Luckily, many other businesses have already ventured down this road. 

1. Choose which type of compressed workweek works for your business.

You can offer either four eight-hour days, four 10-hour days, or “flexible Fridays.” This last option comes from the New York City-based Cockroach Labs. They tried compressed workweeks for a while but found they didn’t work well with their sales department. Instead, they now offer employees the ability to take Fridays off. Those who work on Fridays—such as the sales department—are given additional bonuses or commission. You’ll have to decide which option works best for your company, employees, and payroll system.

2. Cut back on office distractions.

The open office is full of distractions. The good news is various founders and managers have offered their advice on how to combat this struggle. 

Perpetual Guardian found ways to increase productivity by cutting meeting times down from two hours to 30 minutes. 

Cockroach Labs provided employees with noise-canceling headphones to help curb distractions. The company also provided some engineers with lights for their monitors to signal when they’re available to chat with co-workers. 

Another option is to instate “do not disturb” times throughout the day—or block out entire days for work with no meetings. For example, Natalie Nagele, CEO of the tech company Wildbit, doesn’t allow meetings on Wednesdays. “It’s my day of no disruptions. I can sit quietly and work,” she said. She also doesn’t allow more than two 30-minute team meetings per week.

3. Focus on productivity output instead of hours worked.

Another bit of advice Perpetual Guardian put into practice pertains to employee expectations. The company created a contract with each employee that outlined an agreed-upon level of productivity instead of hours. 

They found many of their employees—most notably working moms—could provide the same level of work as full-time employees even when working on a part-time schedule. Employees were paid the same, despite working fewer hours. 

Living for the (three-day) weekend

Transitioning to four-day workweeks might not be right for every business. Nevertheless, there are a handful of companies making it work for them—and they’re benefitting because of it. 

We never know what the future holds. But much like how Henry Ford popularized the 40-hour workweek in the 1920s, all it takes is for one big company to make the change. The four-day workweek may become the norm sooner than you think. 

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Prior to joining the TSheets by QuickBooks marketing team, Katie McBeth spent her time writing for various blogs across the web, including Quiet Revolution, Fortune Magazine, and many more. Her degree in anthropology helped her establish a strong foundation for researching and empathizing with the many fascinating people she interacts with. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her small private zoo of three cats, two dogs, and dozens of plants. 


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