Insights

Is it Time for a 4 Day Workweek?

March 23, 2023

The idea of a four day workweek is gaining momentum, and not just with employees. A new study shows how it could increase not only employee wellness, but also productivity and revenue for companies. So is it a flash in the pan, or the future of full time work?

You don’t need to hear from us that over the past few years, people have been radically rethinking the world of work. From remote work, to hybrid work, to the prevalence of video interviews, everything has seemed to be on the table.

With unemployment at historic lows—especially in Argentus’ specialties of supply chain and procurement—companies are competing fiercely for talent. And in this environment, work-life balance is no longer a nice to have. The top candidates require it when they’re looking to make a move, especially prized passive candidates who have to be pried from a role where they already enjoy strong work-life balance.

Enter the four day work week.

The idea of shortening the workweek seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but the radical transformations over the past few years have researchers and companies seriously considering the idea, with some adopting it on a trial basis. In some studies, it turns out that a four day work week doesn’t actually lower the total productivity of employees. In some cases, it might actually make employees more productive.

An interesting new study on the topic caught our attention—as well as the attention of major media outlets including the Washington Post and Wired. The pilot program, organized by a nonprofit advocacy group called 4 Day Workweek Global, saw 61 workplaces in the UK, with 3000 total employees, trial a 4 day work week for six months. The participating companies crossed a variety of industries. Program participants included medium and large finance firms and manufacturers, as well as a few small businesses including a fish and chips shop.

It sought to answer the question: what’s the benefit of a 4 day work week for employees? And—more interestingly—is there a benefit for companies who employ them?

A shift to a four day work week typically follows one of two models:

  • A “condensed” schedule, where employees work four ten hour days a week, and have the fifth day off. This doesn’t reduce the overall number of working hours.
  • A “true” four day work week, where employees work 32 hours a week. This can be achieved by cutting the fifth day of work in the week (often Monday or Friday), or by otherwise reducing the number of working days in a calendar year.

Participating companies in the study adopted the latter model—meaning their employees worked fewer hours, but kept the same pay. Here were some of the big takeaways:

Results for Employees:

  • Unsurprisingly, employees enjoyed it. They reported benefits for stress, mental health, sleep, time spent with family, and other factors.
  • Men participating in the study increased their childcare duties. The survey data showed that most employees didn’t seek other work in the off hours. The employees kept time diaries, and overall, the amount of time male workers spent looking after their children increased 27%. This shows promise for a more equitable distribution of childcare duties that many working women would love. It also lowers childcare costs for employees.
  • 55% of employees reported an increase in their ability to work.
  • Also unsurprisingly, most employees wanted to keep a four day workweek. A majority of employees surveyed didn’t want to return to a five day workweek. Interestingly, a third said they would go back to five days a week for a 25-50% pay increase. 8% said they would do it for 50% or more increased pay, and 15% said they wouldn’t switch back for any amount of money.

Results for Employers:

Here’s where the study gets more interesting.

  • Companies in the pilot reported 35% increased revenue compared to a similar period from previous years. It’s long been known that happy employees are more productive—and that hours worked isn’t the best metric of productivity—but this figure jumps off the page as a sign that lowering hours can increase overall productivity.
  • Overall, revenue for the companies rose 1.4% across the trial. On a score out of 1/10, companies rated their overall productivity and business performance at 7.5 for the duration of the trial.
  • Companies faced fewer employee resignations, and absenteeism decreased at the participating firms.
  • 91% of organizations in the trial are continuing with a four day workweek on a more permanent basis.

Shortening the number of working hours seems counter-intuitive, until you consider that it’s been done before. Prior to the Great Depression, most employees worked six days a week. In the U.S., the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act codified a maximum 44 hour work week, and created the two day weekend we all know and love. That change ushered in an era where productivity soared. Although there were a number of factors including better technology, is it possible that giving employees more leisure time, and time to recharge, played a role in increasing that productivity?

Implications for the War for Talent

It’s too early to tell whether a four day workweek will take hold as the next great employment trend. But it’s gaining steam. And from our perspective, companies who pursue a four day workweek may have a major leg up in the war for talent attraction and retention. And, crucial to the data, they can gain those benefits while increasing productivity, if the program is implemented in the right way.

As a company hiring in this market, you want candidates who will perform at the highest level. Conventional wisdom suggests that those are the candidates willing to work the most hours. But there’s an emerging base of candidates who recognize that their best performance comes when they can best manage life outside of work.

Why would a top candidate accept a role, or stay at an organization, with a five day workweek when they have competing offers from organizations with four day models? At a certain point, a four day workweek becomes a competitive advantage for organizations—especially if productivity stays the same or increases. Adopting it now might put companies on the leading edge of talent attractiion. Sticking to your guns for too long might put you behind.

This model wouldn’t work for every sector and organization—there are certain jobs that require a certain number of hours, as well as after-hours attention to fight ongoing fires. Flexibility is key. But a number of supply chain and procurement organizations could benefit from this model.

Another recent survey in the Canadian market showed that 91% of senior managers would support a four day workweek for their teams. 69% of managers surveyed anticipate they will adopt some form of a four day workweek, either a 32-hour week or a “condensed” workweek model. The idea is gaining momentum, even in Canada.

It’s too early to tell, but a four day work week may be inevitable. And if it is, will you lose out?

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