- Employers are skeptical about a four-day work week, but productivity doesn’t decrease at all with a shortened work week.
- According to a Qualtrics survey, 92% of people support the implementation and concept of a four-day work week.
- There is an overwhelming push from the corporate world for a return to the pre-pandemic ways of working: in person with fewer remote options, and five days a week.
In the United Kingdom, a large-scale experiment to test the pros, cons, and overall viability of the four-day workweek is now underway, involving 70 companies and 3,300 workers for six months. Workers will receive the same pay, but will work 20% less time.
While this is the most extensive survey of the four-day work week, it is not the only one of its kind. For example, from 2015-2019 Iceland conducted its own study with 2,500 employees and found no loss of productivity, as well as notable improvements in employee well-being.
Many similar experiments on the four-day work week – whether official and empirically orchestrated or unofficial and anecdotal examples at individual companies – have been done at comparable scales yielding similarly positive results.
Earlier this year, Belgium granted its citizens the right to a four-day work week without loss of compensation – though, in this case, five days of work is condensed into four days, so workers are not working less.
According to a Qualtrics survey, 92% of people support the implementation and concept of a four-day work week. The four-day work week is gaining popularity and has excellent potential to improve various vital markers for worker productivity and well-being.
Employers are skeptical of the four-day work week
Nevertheless, many employers are skeptical about implementing a four-day work week. Only some will change their minds about it based on the new experiment underway in the United Kingdom, according to a recent Korn Ferry report.
In the United States especially, there is an overwhelming push (known as the “Great Return”) from the corporate world for a return to the pre-pandemic ways of working—i.e., in person, fewer remote options, and five days a week.
Unfortunately, the Great Return and the employers that subscribe to it are either deeply “out of touch” with or are ignoring the evidence showing that four-day work weeks have great potential for improving worker well-being without diminishing productivity.
Of course, a four-day work week is not applicable in some jobs, and some—typically hyper-industrious—workers might not want it for themselves.
How to implement four-day work weeks to improve productivity
Results of the studies on a shortened work week show that skepticism about the four-day work week is only appropriate when working more than four days is necessary for a role, or if the proposal in question is not a matter of having a choice to work a four-day week but a universal implementation.
A universal implementation would not make sense in all cases because some workers—especially executives and management, but also creative workers who tend to be hyper-industrious—might want to work more than four days each week.
In these cases, a good strategy for employers might be to give employees who work extra bonuses as well as more opportunities for advancement, rather than having a universal implementation of a four-day work week.
Bonuses for working beyond the four-day work week might incentivize more—though not all—workers to work more hours, increasing productivity—but at levels employees find suitable for their own needs.
Research shows that when workers are readily given financial incentives to do more work (i.e., when opportunities for increasing their productive output are optional), they tend to take them. When they do, they are happy making extra income. It’s called overtime.
This is an alternative to the model tested in Iceland and the United Kingdom; it retains all of its features but adds an optional layer of competition to incentivize increased productivity but without fear of salary or job loss.
This model has neither been tested nor implemented but combines two models of work that several countries and companies have extensively tested and implemented, yielding positive results for employers and employees alike.
Nevertheless, it is a tentative model, as some research suggests that overtime can lead to decreased productivity because of burnout and increased risk of occupational injury.
Employers must take care when implementing overtime policies to ensure it is not being over-used by any particular employee. There is little reason to work more than 50-60 hours a week in most jobs, unless you are starting your own business or are in great debt.
The future of work is about giving workers options, not constraints, and a four-day work week with the option of overtime creates potential for improving productivity and well-being.