Is the 40-hour workweek a thing of the past? Perhaps so, according to a survey conducted by SimpleTesting. Close to 96% of the surveyed 1,000 Americans indicated that they want a 4-day workweek. In fact, 90% of surveyed respondents indicated that the 4-day workweek is outdated!

Despite the gains that organisations have made through the COVID-19 pandemic towards increased flexibility towards work arrangements and workplaces, 2020 saw burnout becoming rampant, with a staggering number of employees reporting that their work-life balance was getting worse. Hence, it is no surprise that organisations started introducing new initiatives such as a 4-day workweek or hybrid work arrangements to counter this. But does it really work?
The case for a 4-day work week

Numerous research and real-life examples have highlighted the benefits of a shorter workweek. Between 2014 – 2019, Iceland trialled the 4-day workweek to “overwhelming success”. Some of the key findings revealed that a shorter workweek translated to increased employee’s well-being and lower stress levels. This eventually resulted in over 2,500 workers shifting to a 4-day workweek permanently without a reduction in pay. Today, other countries such as Denmark and New Zealand are following in their footsteps.

The 4-day workweek with definitely not a new concept and the COVID-19 pandemic had certainly been a catalyst for its gaining popularity. That said, simply switching from a traditional 5-day workweek with a 9-to-5 schedule is not as easy a snap of the fingers. Here are some considerations to help organisations with this transition:
Figure out the need for a 4-day workweek

The 4-day workweek does not work for every organisation or industry. For example, it may not be feasible for a restaurant or hotel to operate on a shorter workweek as this may reduce profits and hourly pay for workers. However, that does not mean that certain departments or teams can adopt a 4-day workweek. Start by identifying processes or workflows that are inefficient and think of how a 4-day workweek can solve them. At the same time, gather feedback from employees and managers on their existing workloads and have them mull over whether a 4-day workweek can help to increase productivity.

If a shorter workweek makes sense for certain departments or teams, compile this evidence and research on the benefits. This helps to build a strong business case when it comes to seeking buy-in from senior management.
Impact comes with change

Any changes to work policies are bound to have positive and negative impacts within the workplace. Assess potential impact by detailing down specific changes to workflows, resources, and costs with the transition to a 4-day workweek. Not only does this help business leaders and HR to identify areas that will be impacted, it helps to narrow down the extent and type of impact.
Clearly communicate changes in work policies to employees

Transitioning to a 4-day workweek will not be effective without senior management and employees’ buy-in. Once the business case is approved and backed by the senior management team, inform employees about the potential changes to work policies. This prevents unwanted surprises and reaction from employees once the changes are effected. Brief employees the scope of change, communicate potential changes and impact to employees, and keep them updated on the timelines.
Run pilot programmes to assess impact and feedback

Once the transition is decided, well-planned out and communicated to employees, it is time to act. This is also known as the pilot stage. The pilot stage does not necessarily mean that everything has to go smoothly or be right at the beginning. Rather, it provides opportunities for HR and line managers to identify the tools and processes in order for the 4-day workweek to be possible. Set a timeframe to roll out the full-scale pilot programme. While there are bound to be issues, use that as learning points to improve the implementation plan. Concurrently, provide platforms and channels for employees to provide feedback and ask questions. After all, transitioning to a 4-day workweek requires a shift in cultural mindset, not just an update in work policies.

During the pilot programme, it is also wise to use relevant metrics to track the effectiveness and impact of the transition. For example, did employees take fewer sick days during the pilot or did profits remain the same despite the shorter work hours? If so, this may suggest that employees felt less burned out or were equally productive.

The idea of a 4-day workweek is no doubt an attractive idea. While it may not necessarily be a fit for every organisation, numerous research has shown that a 4-day workweek can improve productivity and motivation levels. Getting it right will take some effort, creativity and understanding of employees’ needs, but the payoff will be significant.

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