Why should you pay attention to experiments with the infamous 4-day work week? When societies examine a major aspect of life (in this case, work) and ask, ‘are we really doing this to the best of our abilities?’ or ‘is this truly working?’ it is indicative of greater symptoms of discontent, and ultimately, we hope, better outcomes. Assessing the big-picture approach to work-life balance is the first step to creating a healthier, more inclusive workforce across all industries.
For some, discussions of working less hours and achieving the same (or greater) ends than the traditional forty-hour work week are brushed off as belonging to younger generations, or wholly unpractical due to a host of other reasons. Research disproves this mentality. Study after study have shown that when employees are allowed the opportunity to decrease their weekly working hours, their productivity jumps up to levels rivaling the productivity boost from WFH in 2020.
Despite its reported success, there is still a long way to go in universally implementing the 4-day work week. The idea implores us to think about a range of industries and services and ask, could the 4-day work week work for everyone? How do agencies, such as BWB, function on a 4-day work week when many of our clients do not and often schedule interviews or business calls on the extra weekday?
During the Great Depression, some companies reduced weekly worker hours to spread out what work was available, and the Senate even passed a bill that would have limited the workweek to 30 hours. However, after President Roosevelt withdrew his support for the bill, it did not pass in the House. Five years later, the 40-hour work week became baked into New Deal legislation, effectively silencing the idea for the next few decades.
During Nixon’s time as Vice President, he predicted that the US economy would shift to a 4-day work week and wrote several pieces of legislation geared towards the idea, but ultimately it gained little traction. Add forty years and throw in a pandemic, and US-based companies are finally beginning to reconsider the benefits of reducing the standard 5-day, 40-hour work week. A 2022 survey conducted by recruiting firm Robert Half found that 93% of US managers supported a 4-day work week for their team, and 64% anticipated their company will make the switch to that schedule within five years.
"What we've seen so far is it improves retention and has attracted better talent into open seats," said Stephanie Broussard, regional director for RH in upstate New York. So why have only a handful of employers taken the leap? Concerns range from having personnel coverage across what is still considered normal working hours, others believe it could exacerbate existing inequalities as the 4-day work week is not fully available for all industries.
Last year in the UK, nonprofit 4-Day Work Week Global and research firm Autonomy conducted a widespread test of the four-day workweek, and it is considered the world's largest-ever trial of the four-day work week so far. Involving nearly 3,000 workers at 61 different companies, workers’ pay was kept in tact and each company had to provide a "meaningful" reduction in work time. The study was overwhelmingly successful, and at the end of the six month trial, 92% of companies reported that they planned to stick with the four-day workweek model.
For the researches, it was important that participating companies understood that they could resist the idea of the four-day week being a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, and were encouraged to “design a policy tailored to its particular industry, organizational challenges, departmental structures and work culture.”
Herein lies an important point for 4-day work week skeptics; based on industry and coverage needed across different companies, a myriad four-day week models were developed from the most popular ‘Friday off’ model, to staggering or alternating off-days, maximizing team coverage while still giving every employee the same opportunity for an extra day off. We were surprised by how many different ways companies found to make it work, accentuating its viability for companies ranging in size and type.
So, what were the most important results of the six-month trial of 4-day work weeks? Employees resoundingly reported feeling less stressed and burned out, staff turnover decreased, and revenues grew compared to a similar period in previous years. Here are some of the top insights from the report:
When it comes to the way we work, we all recognize that the pandemic undoubtedly pushed the conversation about what is effective decades ahead of where it was before, and this has been a welcome change for most people. Video-conferencing opened up a lens into employee’s homes, children, pets, and personal lives, and companies globally saw staff suffer through grief, mental health difficulties, and a host of other pandemic-related issues during this time. These experiences have increased a general sense of moral responsibility towards employees, as well as sensitized leaders to the business need for a healthy workforce.
For some, the 4-day work week is a natural and rational business response to post-pandemic work life, and its potential benefits are undeniable…
All things considered, is the timing finally right for embracing the 4-day work week? As many companies learned to trust their employees to meet deadlines and expectations as well as manage their own time during the pandemic, we can once again adopt flexible ways of working that create change for the greater good.
House Reps. Dave Madsen, Chris Pielli and Joshua Siegel are in the process of circulating a sponsorship memorandum for the measure that notes, “over 100 years ago, union members and labor activists fought for a five-day, 40-hour workweek in the United States. Over the last century, the labor market and average workday has changed drastically, especially since the pandemic. Companies and governments across the globe have run pilot programs testing a shorter workweek with promising results…Moreover, a four-day work week would provide workers with flexibility, allowing them to be more present parents and more active community members,” the lawmakers said in their memorandum.
As its been shown to be a formidable opponent against burnout and dissatisfaction, “a shorter workweek also demands a change in culture,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, head of the union for state and municipal workers in Iceland said, “and letting go of the myth that long working hours lead to better results.” Perhaps the shift towards the 4-day work week is just that, a shift in mindset that allows for even greater flexibility than any of us could have imagined a few short years ago. What are your thoughts on the 4-day work week?
Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.
If you have any questions about living, working or playing any of the areas we serve, please contact us. We are happy to help. Seize the day, every day, that’s what we say!