The Shift to a Four Day Work Week: Measuring the Impact on Productivity and Well-Being

Is a four day work week the key to enhanced productivity and employee happiness? Companies worldwide are testing this concept, claiming it boosts output while improving work-life balance. But how does it actually work, and what results are they seeing? Tina Paterson, CEO and Founder of Outcomes Over Hours explores the transformative potential of a shorter workweek, through global trends, productivity metrics, and real-life case studies.
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Key Takeaways

  • The four-day workweek is a growing worldwide trend, with varied implementations across companies such as full salaries for reduced days or slightly reduced salaries, aimed at reshaping work-life balance.
  • Adoption of a four-day workweek leads to productivity gains and efficiency improvements, with businesses reporting increased productivity due to better time management, a focus on outcomes, and efficient work habits.
  • A four-day workweek has positively impacted employee well-being and job satisfaction, with evidence of reduced stress, improved mental and physical health, and enhanced work-life balance, although the transition requires strong leadership and may present operational challenges.

The Rise of the Four-Day Workweek

The shift to a four-day workweek is more than just a hyped up catch-phrase; it’s a growing movement gaining traction worldwide. Numerous companies have already embraced this model, including Medibank, Expath, Swash Labs, and Indystack, among many others. These organizations are maintaining full salaries while reducing working days to four of normal length, making it an attractive proposition for their employees.

However, the implementation varies across companies. For instance, Unito offers a four-day workweek at 80% salary after a certain period of employment, presenting a different spin on the full salary trend. Whether it’s fewer hours for the same pay or a slightly reduced salary for a three-day weekend, the four-day workweek is reshaping the concept of work-life balance.

Origins of the movement

The push for a reduced workweek is not a recent phenomenon. Its roots can be traced back to the industrial revolution, where workers faced grueling 70-hour, six-day weeks. This led to the landmark ‘Haymarket Affair’ strike in 1886, demanding an eight-hour workday.

Substantial changes followed in the subsequent decades. The Ford Motor Company, in the 1920s, shifted from a six-day to a five-day workweek, setting a new norm. Later, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in the U.S established the 40-hour workweek.

Fast forward to the present, modern early adopters like Phantom Buster represent the burgeoning interest and popularity of the four-day workweek.

Global adoption

The four-day workweek experiment is not restricted to a few innovative companies or a single country; it’s a global phenomenon. Countries like:

  • Germany, which has launched a six-month experiment involving 45 companies
  • Portugal, which has initiated government-funded pilots
  • Belgium, which has implemented legislations

Not everyone is stepping up to test the waters.

In the corporate world, big names like Unilever and Microsoft Japan have joined the movement. Unilever is conducting a year-long trial in New Zealand, while Microsoft Japan reported a significant boost in productivity. These global experiments reflect a collective effort to better understand the impact of the four-day workweek on productivity and wellbeing, a topic also discussed at the World Economic Forum.

Productivity and Efficiency in a Shorter Workweek

A significant concern when transitioning to a shorter workweek is the impact on productivity. Surprisingly, many companies have reported substantial productivity gains. Microsoft Japan, for example, saw a 40% increase in productivity after adopting the four-day workweek. Such positive outcomes are not isolated incidents. A study involving 73 companies found that productivity improved significantly with a shorter workweek, and worker satisfaction also increased. The key here is efficiency. Companies have discovered shortcuts and time savers that not only maintain productivity but also reduce operating costs. However, it’s worth noting that the productivity gains may vary across industries. Service and logistics jobs may face constraints due to physical limits, whereas knowledge-based jobs adapt more fluidly to a compressed work schedule.

“For two decades, my guiding principle has underscored the significance of results over the mere tally of hours spent. It’s a philosophy that champions productivity and impact above all.” Tina Paterson, Outcomes Over Hours

Time management strategies​

Squeezing a full week’s work into four days requires effective time management. Companies are improving meeting efficiency by preparing clear agendas, reducing unnecessary meetings, and time-boxing activities. This focus on meaningful work over the number of hours worked is key to maintaining productivity in a shorter workweek.

Employees, too, have adopted more efficient work habits. They are cautious with their time, focusing on priorities, and effectively managing their workload. The additional time off in a four-day workweek can be used for personal development, further adding to a cycle of growth and improvement by fostering a culture of learning and innovation.

Results-oriented culture​

Adopting a four-day workweek necessitates a shift in organizational culture. Companies are moving from an input-based approach, where hours worked are the focal point, to an outcome-based approach that revolves around achieving specific goals. This results-oriented culture requires:

  • Clear, measurable outcomes for teams and individuals
  • Flexibility to adapt targets as the business environment and needs evolve
  • Trust and refraining from micromanagement
  • Regular communications serving as a platform for progress updates

Such a culture emphasizes continuous improvement, experimentation, results, innovation, and trust over mere physical presence in the office, leading to smarter work habits.

Employee Well-Being and Satisfaction

A shorter workweek doesn’t just impact productivity; it can significantly enhance employee well-being. Workers who participated in four-day workweek trials reported:

  • An increase in self-perceived health status
  • Improved mental health scores
  • A notable reduction in negative emotions, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep problems.

It’s not just about mental and physical health; job satisfaction also sees a considerable boost. Employees have expressed a desire to maintain the practice and have noted an overall happier and more content state of mind towards their jobs. These benefits contribute to a positive cycle of productivity and satisfaction, reinforcing the potential of the four-day workweek, which can also positively impact physical health.

Reduced stress levels​

Reduced stress levels are one of the significant benefits of a four-day workweek. Studies by 4 Day Week Global have associated shorter workweeks with significant reductions in stress levels. Some companies, like D’Youville University and G2i, have even focused on burnout prevention and offered relevant employee support funds.

Interestingly, about 40% of workers reported less work-related stress without an increase in workload intensity thanks to the newly structured workweek. This significant reduction in stress contributes not only to the overall employee wellbeing but also to a more positive and productive work environment.

Improved work-life balance​

A four-day workweek can enhance work-life balance significantly by reducing overall working hours. The global trial led to employees reporting improvements in physical and mental health, as well as better work-life balance and increased general life satisfaction. These positive outcomes demonstrated the effectiveness of the trial in creating a more balanced work week. The transition led to a significant reduction in commuting time, from 3.5 hours to just under 2.6 hours per week, providing employees with more time for leisure and personal activities.

Employees at companies like ThredUp and Kickstarter have felt recharged and immensely valued the change, reporting better work outcomes and a desire to avoid returning to a five-day schedule. This improved work-life balance, especially benefiting parents and carers, encourages a workplace culture of:

  • learning
  • innovation
  • increased motivation
  • job satisfaction

Organizational Culture and Leadership

The successful transition to a four-day workweek requires:

  • Strong leadership buy-in
  • A significant shift in organizational culture
  • Valuing outcomes achieved over hours worked
  • Organizational cultures that value flexibility and work-life balance

Organizations that prioritize these factors are more likely to successfully transition to a four-day workweek.

A shorter workweek can foster a culture that emphasizes:

  • Continuous improvement
  • Experimentation
  • Results
  • Innovation
  • Trust

over mere physical presence in the office. Real-world experiences show that embedding new practices into the workplace culture is crucial, and setting clear boundaries is necessary to sustain productivity, creativity, and employee engagement while maintaining a positive work environment.

Leadership buy-in

Senior management support is crucial for any significant changes within an organization. Leaders must be fully committed to the transition to a four-day workweek. Leadership support involves adapting work practices to increase productivity and meet business goals when moving to a four-day workweek, and managers may take on additional workload in scheduling and performance monitoring.

Leadership directives should:

  • Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach
  • Formulate plans that address both business demands and employee needs
  • Value employee well-being
  • See the four-day workweek as a privilege contingent upon delivering expected outcomes

Success might hinge on a leadership-driven company culture that incorporates these principles.

“The transition to a four-day workweek necessitates a reevaluation of leadership capabilities, questioning whether we’ve adequately equipped our leaders with the tools and mindset needed to thrive in this radically altered work environment.” Tina Paterson, Outcomes Over Hours

Building adaptable teams

Adaptable teams are key to thriving in a four-day workweek environment. Leadership plays a crucial role in creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to voice concerns and suggest improvements.

Teams can benefit from a learning model like 70-20-10, which blends on-the-job experience, social learning, and formal training, to maximize skill development within the time constraints of a shorter workweek. Clear communication and a focus on training for time management, prioritization, and effective communication are fundamental for team adaptability and accountability in a transition to a four-day workweek.

Challenges and Solutions in Implementing a Four-Day Workweek

While the benefits of a four-day workweek are compelling, the transition isn’t without challenges. Significant operational adjustments are needed to maintain productivity and accommodate the compressed schedule. Potential drawbacks such as overworking on workdays, reduced customer service hours, and challenges in coordination may arise.

However, these challenges are not insurmountable. Successful adoption can be facilitated by focusing on employee well-being, modifying organizational culture, and deploying effective strategies that address the unique challenges of this transition.

Stress, Productivity & One-Size Fits All Approach

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to a four day working week.  Employees come from varying backgrounds, have varying degrees of needs and outside work commitments, and therefore a uniform approach to closing the doors for one extra working day per week is not possible without adding additional stress to some. 

Additionally, the pressure to match or surpass the productivity and efficiency levels of peers, especially under a four-day workweek model, can amplify stress, leaving individuals feeling isolated in their struggles to adapt.  Without laying a solid foundation of effectiveness and efficiency, we risk compromising employee well-being, highlighting the intricate balance between operational productivity and personal health.

Operational adjustments

Operational adjustments are a vital part of the transition. An operational feasibility analysis and an organizational readiness assessment can determine the strategic alignment of a four-day workweek with company goals and employee attitudes towards work-life balance.

“The journey towards a more condensed workweek begins with absolute clarity on priorities, emphasizing the need to communicate what truly matters most for our teams and the broader organization.” Tina Paterson, Outcomes Over Hours

A detailed implementation plan, including trial periods and gradual steps to introduce the new workweek, can ensure that teams are adequately prepared to manage their workload in the new configuration. Companies need to adapt their processes, optimize tools and resources for effective communication and workload management, and ensure no-meeting days.

Overcoming potential drawbacks

The journey towards a more condensed workweek begins with absolute clarity on priorities, emphasizing the need to understand and communicate what truly matters most for teams and the broader organization.

Implementing a four-day workweek extends beyond mere policy adjustments; it demands a comprehensive uplift in skills and capabilities. This strategic enhancement is crucial for ensuring that the transition not only takes place but excels.

A four-day workweek can also lead to:

  • Hiring challenges, attracting applicants interested only in the reduced hours without the desired work ethic
  • Potential overtime costs for longer daily shifts for hourly workers
  • The need to develop solutions like shift rotations for consistent coverage to avoid negatively affecting customer service due to reduced workweek hours.

The Outcomes Over Hours Approach

In my experience working with some of the largest and most complex organizations in the world, implementing hybrid working arrangements can lead to extraordinary gains in productivity, efficiency, efficacy and well-being in the workplace.  This in turn attracts talent and retains talent.  But to successfully implement hybrid working practices, a very clear pathway needs to be navigated including:

  • Developing Leaders and Teams for Effectiveness: Building leaders and teams capable of thriving in a four-day workweek environment, focusing on training and development in time management, prioritization, and effective communication.
  • Setting Clear Goals and Expectations: Defining clear, measurable outcomes for teams and individuals, and how to adapt these goals as business needs change.
  • Prioritizing Employee Well-Being: Providing strategies for integrating well-being into the workweek, ensuring employees have the energy and motivation to be productive during their working days and can fully enjoy their time off.

In the enthusiastic rush towards the four-day workweek, companies must tread with caution, ensuring that the shift is more than a superficial change in scheduling. It’s imperative that organizations adopt an ‘Outcomes Over Hours’ philosophy, focusing on the productivity and results achieved rather than merely reducing the workweek. This approach demands a meticulous reevaluation of how we measure success, underlining the necessity for robust, outcome-focused strategies that safeguard both organizational goals and employee well-being. Only then can we fully harness the potential benefits of a shorter workweek, from increased efficiency and employee satisfaction to fostering a culture of trust and empowerment.

Want more information on successfully optimizing remote work in your organization?

In the evolving landscape of work, where traditional office boundaries are increasingly blurred, our masterclass at Outcomes Over Hours is an essential advancement in this journey. It explores the intricacies of fostering a culture where productivity is measured by achievements, not the clock. This masterclass is designed to equip leaders and teams with the strategies and insights needed to thrive in a remote or hybrid environment, emphasizing that the true essence of work lies in what we accomplish together, irrespective of where we log in from. It’s about making ‘Outcomes Over Hours’ not just a philosophy but a practiced reality built into the DNA of our teams, ensuring that every hybrid work setup becomes a beacon of efficiency, engagement, and success.

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