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The Four-Day Workweek: A Concept Worth Exploring

The concept of a four-day workweek isn’t new. In fact, businesses and governments have experimented with it for decades. But, for whatever reason, it’s a work style that hasn’t ever received widespread adoption.


The roots of the traditional five-day workweek in the United States go back to the early 1900s and the practice was popularized by Henry Ford, who instituted a five-day workweek throughout his company. At the time, as technological advancements were made, working hours had steadily been reducing, which prompted economist John Maynard Keynes to predict that by around 2030 people would work just 15 hours a week.

While that prediction could still come to fruition, it was predicated on the idea that working hours would slowly reduce over the years. Instead, the workweek stabilized at 40 hours across five days and a transition away from that model hasn’t materialized. To wit, a poll last year by staffing firm Robert Half found that 17% of organizations offer compressed workweeks.

That, however, could be changing. More emphasis is being placed on employee well-being by organizations and more business leaders are saying shareholder value is no longer their primary focus, instead noting that investing in employees, supporting communities, dealing ethically with suppliers and providing customers value has taken its place.

“Currently we are seeing a premium on workplace flexibility and this program is a natural extension of this discussion,” said Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork. “People want to have a great life and do great work and smart employers are testing options like a four-day workweek, 35-hour workweeks as a reward for optimal performance.”

Earlier this month it was revealed that Microsoft tested a four-day workweek in Japan, a country notorious for laborious work practices, back in August. The test run gave employees five consecutive Fridays off. It resulted in more productivity, as sales were boosted by 40% compared to the same month a year earlier. The number of pages printed in the office fell by 59%, electricity consumption dropped by 23% and the program had a 94% satisfaction rate among employees.

“Organizations previously looked at four-day workweeks as a productivity concern,” said Marta Turba, vice president and director of content at WorldatWork. “As the nature of work and jobs transform, there’s much more opportunity to embrace this as a new practice.”

While it would likely vary on a case-by-case basis, the rationale behind a four-day workweek being more productive makes sense: The extra day to recharge should theoretically boost an employee’s energy and with one less day to complete tasks, it should theoretically drive one to manage their time better and work more efficiently.

Amy Balliett, CEO of a Seattle-based design and marketing firm, has moved to a four-day workweek, offering her employees Monday or Friday off, and she told USA Today her staff is 25% more productive.

While there’s obvious well-being and recruiting advantages — employers that advertise the four-day schedule receive 13% more applications on average, according to ZipRecruiter — the productivity element is key to its widespread implementation in the future and it has to be assessed by each individual organization to make sure it’s a fit.

“It has to be right for all involved, including customers, coworkers and stakeholders,” Cawood said. “Four-day workweeks that still offer the same volume of work outcome as five days is really the key question — can it be done by your organization and if so, how and what do you need to do to monitor and measure it?”

Cawood added that the most important thing an employer who is considering a shift to a four-day workweek in the future can do is to set proper expectations.

“This can’t be seen as a reduction of 20% of a workweek without the promise of 100% productivity,” Cawood said. “Doing more with less time is a massive perk to everyone if done well and nothing gets off track.”



How to Make it Happen

Setting up shorter workweeks was a hot topic turned dream pursuit and now, it’s steadily becoming reality, writes Ronni Zehavi for The Next Web. Zehavi predicts that it won’t be long before all of Corporate America adopts four-day workweeks to increase productivity and boost company morale while minimizing the risk of burnout.  

Why Don’t You Have a Four-Day Workweek?

Niraj Chokshi of the New York Times delves into the history of how the traditional five-day workweek began and why, despite predictions of its demise, it still remains the most common practice in the U.S. A work expert in the piece notes that Americans value work more than any other culture in the history of the world, which has led to resistance of a shorter workweek.

Is this the Next Big Thing?

Paul Davidson of USA Today checks in with the leaders of several different organizations that have moved to a four-day workweek to find out why they made the switch and what the results have been.

Labor Unions Pushing for Four-Day Workweek

Moving from the standard five-day workweek to a four-day workweek is one of the changes unions are proposing as part of their vision for the future of work, writes Alexia Fernandez Campbell for Vox. Fernandez Campbell’s piece notes that unions are pushing for a 32-hour workweek, citing technological improvements that make it less necessary for the traditional 40-hour week.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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