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Understanding the Four-Day Week

RoleMapper Team
February 16, 2022

Support for a four-day working week was gaining momentum before the pandemic. Pre-2020, a range of organisations were trialling versions of this work pattern and recognising impressive benefits, especially when it came to productivity and wellbeing.

However, recent events have put flexible working front and centre of every major company's thinking. One flex working option that often includes serious consideration is asking employees to only work four days each week instead of five.

Benefits of a four-day Week

There are a number of drivers around this approach:

  • Many employees are striving for a better work-life balance and value time over financial reward
  • Employers want to attract and retain the best and most diverse workforces
  • Research from trials sometimes shows that a shorter week results in higher productivity and improved performance
  • Employee wellbeing is negatively impacted from the traditional ways of working, and maybe a four-day week can help prevent ‘burnout’

Definitions – What does a four-day week actually mean?

When you read between the headlines, you’ll notice that a four-day week means different things to different companies.

  • Compressed Hours
  • Part-Time Working (Four days a Week)
  • Working Four Days a Week (but getting paid for five)

Results of four-day Week Trials

In 2018, all 240 employees at Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand Financial Services company, were offered the opportunity to try working four, eight-hour days each week but get paid for five days. Some employees didn't work on Fridays, others didn't work on Wednesdays. Following the two-month trial, the main benefits reported by employees were a better work-life balance and decreased stress levels.

Before the trial, just over half of employees felt they could effectively balance their work and home commitments, which increased to 78% of employees. Employee stress levels decreased by 7 percentage points, while measures of “stimulation, commitment and a sense of empowerment at work” also all showed significant increases.

The assumption that might be made is that this reduction in working hours would have led to a corresponding drop in productivity. However, despite the reduced hours, productivity actually increased by 20%. Following the trial, the decision was taken to make this change permanent.

Microsoft Japan also tested out a four-day week with 2,300 employees over five weeks in 2019. They reported that employees were not only happier but 40% more productive, whilst electricity and paper consumption also decreased (23% and 59% respectively).

Potential Pitfalls

Understandably, four-day week trial reports tend to focus on the positives. However, as with any way of working, there are potential downsides.

Whilst this approach would work for some roles, it can be more difficult to implement for others (e.g. employees in back office and support functions, such as IT, finance and human resources). There are also concerns about the potential negative impacts on employee wellbeing and productivity.

So, what is this telling us?

To be effective, rolling-out a four-day week strategy across an organisation needs to be designed well. As we’ve seen from those less successful examples, there are elements that need to be considered. Spending time properly designing a role will inform what flexible working options will work and which won’t.

Job design for effective roll-out

Our Future of Work modules allow you to design, integrate and implement sustainable, consistent and fair hybrid and flexible working practices, at scale.

Automating and operationalising flexible working policies into every role ensures they are business-led, eliminate bias and give your organisation total visibility of flexibility and work patterns across the enterprise.

To learn more about the pros and cons of the four-day week, download our latest guide.

The building blocks of your workforce strategy.

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