Is a four-day workweek really worth it?
The transition to a four-day workweek is gathering steam worldwide. Companies and governments across Asia, including Japan, Indonesia, India and South Korea, are testing the viability of the shorter week – or already implementing it – to foster work-life balance. Following a successful six-month trial period, a hundred companies in England signed up to deploy the new model.
Companies worldwide are grappling with burnout and exploring potential solutions, including the adoption of a four-day workweek. However, implementing such a change requires careful consideration of various factors such as company culture, industry demands, and technological readiness. What works for one business may not work for another, making it essential for companies to conduct thorough due diligence to determine whether a four-day workweek is a viable solution for their organisation.
Alternatives to the four-day workweek
There are alternative solutions to fostering work-life balance if a shift to a four-day workweek is too radical. Business leaders might consider a softer transition, such as integrating a 9-day-on, 10th-day-off type model. Each employee works an extra 45 minutes for the nine days and has the 10th day off. Teams' days off are staggered to ensure business continuity and success. Another option would be to implement half days on Fridays as a sound way to make this transition.
Implementing the rotation model described above has the additional benefit of helping to create an agile organisation. It requires a backup structure built on a robust knowledge management system to ensure continuity. Every team member is assigned a "buddy" to serve as their backup. Team members upload client details and up-to-date statuses into the company's knowledge management system, so their buddies know their workloads and what is needed to move forward when their day off rolls along.
This approach helps create more agility, as people can cover the existing employee's position when a talent is ready to move into another role or leaves the organisation. It also supports the more modern career path of lateral moves within the organisation, enabling talent to learn jobs outside their normal purview, which could lead to discovering a new passion. It opens the door for internal promotions or lateral moves instead of hiring externally.
Can your organisation support a four-day workweek?
A key question when considering the feasibility of a four-day workweek is whether you are setting unreal expectations, which could have the opposite effect than intended. I have seen a four-day workweek fail when an organisation's employees already suffer from high burnout, attrition, stress and workloads. For companies considering a shorter workweek, determine whether less time to get work done will cause your employees even more stress.
For example, if your employees are already working 10 to 12 hours a day, it could be de-motivating to say, "Hey, look, team, we're super excited. We're going to announce that we're moving to a four-day work week." However, your employees may have a different view. They don't see it as getting anything because there's no way they can get all their work done in four days. They are thinking, "How the heck is that even possible?"
Essentially you're telling people, "Hey, for you to enjoy that fifth day off or that 10th day off, you now need to work 14 hours a day to get caught up." There's an expression, "you're giving me the sleeves off your vest." The idea is, of course, that vests don't have sleeves.
The result is that people don't truly disconnect on that fifth or 10th day because they worry about everything they need to accomplish. Offering a false benefit makes things worse. Your employees may view it as a PR stunt.
A healthy work-life balance should already be part of a culture for a successful four-day workweek model. I highly recommend that companies do a pulse check before considering transitioning. It is essential to understand and respect how your talent structures their day. Look at leveraging automation and technology to support a four-day workweek structure. Set your employees up for the new model by encouraging less client-facing activity on day four to ensure minimal disruption to the business.
The four-day workweek can promote muscular agility and work-life balance if done well. If not executed well, it could backfire and employees will end up working more, which could harm the business.
Challenges for international companies
For international companies, shifting out of a traditional five-day workweek does present some challenges. First, you can't implement a blanket-wide policy for all your locations. Every country's labor laws are different, so you must consider the feasibility of the model on a country-by-country basis. In Spain or Brazil, for example, companies engage with workers through collective bargaining agreements. Organisations must ensure that their collective bargaining agreements, comparable to union agreements in the U.S., allow you to change the workweek. In Spain, hypothetically, you may not be able to request your employees work more than eight hours a day – whether for a four-day workweek or the 10th day off model.
Second, if you're an American company, for example, and want to expand into the Netherlands or Spain with a four-day workweek model, you'll need to know the depth of the collective bargaining agreements. And if you decide to move forward with the transition, it will require going before an external council to plead your case.
Consider partnering with an employer of record that takes full accountability for the employment of your people. An employer of record can navigate and help your organisation understand the nuances of worker contracts, including collective bargaining agreements. It has the legal expertise and knowledge of the country or local laws to ensure you are compliant. It also helps you avoid going before an external council if you want to change something in the agreement, saving you time and money. Ultimately, it allows you to offer flexibility and options to attract the best talent, regardless of location.
When done thoughtfully, a four-day or nine-day-on, 10th-day-off is an impressive feature to offer to employees and an excellent way to promote work-life balance—something the majority of workers crave. However, before implementing such a move, ensure it makes sense for your organisation. It's worth putting in the time to determine your company culture, how your employees structure their day, and their current work-life balance.