You may have seen a lot of recent buzz about Microsoft testing a 4-day workweek in Japan this summer. They announced that productivity increased by 40% during this trial! Sounds amazing, right? Who doesn’t want a shorter workweek? However, Microsoft isn’t the first company to try this out and it’s actually a more popular concept around the world than you may think. Today, we dive into the idea of a shortened workweek and some of the research on the topic.
So, what is a 4-day workweek? Obviously it is when a workweek only consists of 4 days. However, it can be implemented in many different ways and has been tested by various companies. For example, a company can implement a 4-day workweek where all employees work the same number of hours per day (typically 8) during those 4 days. Alternatively, a company can implement a workweek where employees work the full 40-hour workweek compressed into 4 days. This means employees would work 10 hours each day.
There are also differences in how companies enforce work schedules. In some cases, companies allow employees to opt-in to their version of a shortened workweek while others make the schedule mandatory. As you can imagine, these differences impact how well these types of programs or flexible schedules work. On that note…
What We Know
As mentioned earlier, the idea of shortening the workweek is not new. There’s been research and discussion about this on and off for decades. Yet, unfortunately, we still have a lot to learn. While we have many examples of companies trying it out and some research, the findings are somewhat mixed. Some types of shortened workweeks are better than others.
Overall, research shows that 4-day workweeks make employees happy and they usually like it. They have higher job satisfaction and engagement. Employees that like the policy are also more likely to show up to work, are less exhausted, and report better physical health.
Productivity and performance seem to have mixed results, however. Generally, employees’ productivity increases when a company implements a shortened workweek with normal hours per day. In other words, making long days (10 hours or more) does not help productivity and can actually create more exhaustion. The boosts in productivity seem to be very much related to less hours not just fewer days.
The impact on work-family balance is also complicated. While many people like a 4-day workweek, it can sometimes lead to MORE work-family issues. Why would that be? Well, that’s where the length of days matters again. Longer days can mean not getting home to kids fast enough or just less time in the evenings for personal or family life than normal. Some evidence suggests that 5-day workweeks with shorter days are better than 4-day workweeks with longer days. Again, like productivity, less hours seems to be more critical than fewer days. Finally, choice in schedule seems to impact work-family balance the most. If you can choose the length of your workweek, you are happier and more balanced than if it’s mandated. Makes sense! You get to choose what works best for you and your family.
What Do We Do?
While there is still so much to learn about shortened workweeks and what makes sense, there are some themes that are emerging. While only working 4 days sounds great, long days are always exhausting. It may not be worth shortening your week if you are going to work longer days. Also, having choice is important. We talk about flexibility a lot and, once again, it’s important for overall employee wellness, happiness, and productivity.
Employers should consider restructuring and changing their work environments to make happy, productive employees. Number of days worked is just another way to create a flexible work environment. It’s a great option for jobs where people have to physically be in the workplace like retail or food service (Shake Shack is a good example!) However, it may not be the only thing to consider if employees can have other flexible schedules. We know mandating a schedule isn’t great. But, allowing for flexibility in work hours, location, and how work is done have been proven time and time again to help create that productive and happy environment. If part of that flexibility is the number of days worked per week, great! But, if a company can be more flexible in where and when people do their work, even better. Companies should focus on all flexible work options and not just focus on trends like the Microsoft study.
Now we’d love to hear from you. Have you ever been lucky enough to experience a 4-day workweek? How did it go? Did you like it? Let us know your thoughts below!