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4-Day Workweek, A Trend or The Future?

Dive In
  • Writer's pictureThe CareerBeacon Team

Updated: Mar 25

Are 4-day workweeks possible?

The 4-day workweek is more than a trend as many companies across the globe are seeking hybrid operations. According to Indeed through Narcity, 41% of Canadian employers are taking an interest in alternative work schedules and more employee flexibility. Two major factors in the decision-making process are employee well-being and reduced operational costs. If you are questioning the validity of the 4-day workweek, you can take inspiration from countries like Iceland – which have conducted a 4-year pilot on this very topic.

What’s the result of that pilot program in Iceland? 

Almost 90% of the working population in Iceland have reduced hours or flexible scheduling, which contributes to improved work-life balance as of 2022. These changes have created higher employee retention, increased satisfaction rates, and lessened employee burnout. Overall, the consensus leads us to believe that the 4-day workweek is amenable to the well-being of employees.

reduced work days lead to an improved well-being amongst employees

Iceland is not the only country with success in the 4-day workweek, as businesses in New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Japan are also exploring this benefit. More recently, the UK has begun a six-month trial to study the value of shorter workweeks.

The interest in the shortened workweek is there, but is it better?

From an employee standpoint, the shorter workweek may prove to be more effective than not. Several studies have shown that employees are motivated, drive innovation, and have increased creativity. Partly, this is due to the employee’s desire to maximize their time and not leave tasks pending. The balance that a 4-day workweek creates can allow room for rest and mitigates the nonwork-related tasks that may happen during company time. The extra day off also helps to impact an employee’s health – especially as working long hours can increase the risk of stroke.

As mentioned above, a 4-day workweek increases creativity in employees. The uptick in innovation and ingenuity is directly linked to rest. A study by the University of New York and the University of Florida found that 40% of creative ideas come during breaks, downtime, and rest. The extra day leaves room for the mind to wander and stimulates the ability to be more solutions-oriented. Larger corporations in Japan that implement reduced workweeks support this research and report 40% more efficiency in work. They’ve also found that, reduced workweeks have impacted more than productivity – the reduction also decreased the number of people falling ill from burnout.

results of 4-day work weeks show less people falling ill due to burnout

There is a sustainability factor to include in the conversation when looking at 4-day workweeks. Less time travelling to the office can reduce carbon emissions and less pollution. In 2019, a study by UK-based researchers concluded that a shortened workweek, particularly to 4 days, can reduce carbon emissions by 20% in 6 years. This impact has positive implications for climate change. Greenpeace, an organization focused on environmental wellness, has also mentioned the eco-friendly benefits of a 4-day workweek that can boost economic success. The reduced commuter costs and the need for goods or services used in the workplace. Ultimately, that has immediate cost-effectiveness for employers and the world at large.

How might employers benefit from the 4-day workweek?

One factor contributing to the pessimism of the 4-day workweek is productivity. Often, companies choose to work Monday to Thursday, where working hours are increased to 10-hour days or the standard 8-hour is maintained. Each of these presents opportunities and limitations. 

A longer 10-hour working day can decrease productivity, making the decision to shorten the workweek less desirable for employers and employees. However, studies by the Maru Public Opinion survey have found that 79% of full-time workers in Canada are willing to work 10-hour workdays. This remains a good option, though, and implementing strategies to increase employee mental and physical health may be most effective. 

Alternatively, maintaining the 8-hour workday 4 days a week can inspire employee productivity as they may take less time for breaks or other non-work-related issues. This may create hesitancy in employers as there is less available to the public, clients, and outside resources that wish to continue relationships with them.

Hesitancy from employers as it reduces availability options with customers

Although these are two of the most popular options, they aren’t the only ones. Employers can seek alternative routes that satisfy their workers and the business’s needs. A rotating schedule could be a great option – but what does that mean, and how might that work?

A rotating schedule can look different according to the implementation of the company itself. One way this may manifest is by keeping up the 5-day operation, allowing employees to cycle through those days based on predetermined schedules. In short, if there are five employees in a department, each may take one regularly scheduled day off throughout that week to grant them a 4-day workweek. This allows businesses to continue at full operating hours and have coverage within a department while satisfying the shortened weeks for employees. These rotating schedules can be fixed or flexible to accommodate the needs of both workers and employers. A rotating schedule helps limit any additional expenses the business may incur from fully closing operations one day each week. 

Employers can also capture huge savings through the 4-day workweek. Financially speaking, reducing business hours by 1/5 can decrease overhead expenses by just as much. Utilities are an excellent expenditure for employers, and following the Monday to Thursday model or a simple 4-day week can cut that expense. Microsoft in Japan conducted a study on the 4-day workweek and found a 23% reduction in electricity costs alone. Companies can also feel the savings through resources used within the office or business, and this means less budget for variable expenses and supplies.

Lastly, employers who implement 4-day workweeks have an advantage for jobseekers and employee retention. Right now, jobseekers are in the driver’s seat in the labour market, and those on the job hunt are more likely to apply to companies that offer a three-day weekend. This is an especially favourable option for smaller companies that may lack additional resources for bonuses and incentives. According to Deloitte, 22% of millennials leave jobs due to poor work-life balance. With the 4-day workweek, employees will have more opportunities to remain healthy, pursue higher education, and reduce burnout—all of which benefit the future success of the employer and business. The retention also increases for women in the workforce, as there will be less pressure to step back for caregiving or childcare expenses. In 2020 alone, 3 million US women left the labour market because of reduced flexibility in the workplace.

22% of millennials leave jobs due to poor work-life balance

Final thoughts?

Employers have opportunities to retain workers, maintain business needs, and increase the well-being of the business and employees alike. The decision to move toward a shortened workweek has implications that even extend beyond employee satisfaction, as considerations to sustainability and cost reduction are taken into account. Ultimately, the possibility of the 4-day workweek is effective in many countries and has been implemented across hundreds of businesses. Even in the present, it is clear that this isn’t a trend, but the foreseeable future of many global operations.

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